Ospreys make their first breeding attempt in southern Britain for 200 years

A pair of ospreys have laid an egg in their nest at a secret location in the Poole Harbor area, which experts say is the species’ first attempt to breed in southern Britain for nearly 200 years old.

The species was once widespread across Europe, but was hunted to extinction in Britain by the 1840s, with birds killed for taxidermy and eggs stolen by collectors.

In the mid-20th century the birds returned to Scotland and they slowly spread, but in the 70 years since their return they have not previously nested in the south of the country.

The new nesting attempt is the result of an osprey reintroduction project that began in 2017, which aims to reconstruct the osprey’s historic range.

According to the Birds of Poole Harbor charity, which carried out the reintroduction alongside the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, the pair of birds, known as CJ7 and 022, first met in the spring 2021 after returning to Poole Harbor after migrating to wintering grounds in West Africa.

The charity closely monitored the movements of the birds. They said the female, CJ7, first visited Poole Harbor in 2017 during the first year of the reintroduction project, and visited nesting platforms set up to attract ospreys to breed every year since.

The male, 022, was released as part of the reintroduction program in 2019. That year he made his first migration to West Africa and spent two years there. He then returned on May 18, 2021, when he first encountered CJ7, despite being too young to spawn at the time.

“The pair spent the summer of 2021 bonding pairs and establishing nesting territories, indicating that they were interested in breeding here in the future,” the charity said. The birds then left Poole Harbor in early September 2021 and those involved in the project hoped they would return this spring.

Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbor said: ‘When 022 and CJ7 went on migration last autumn we then waited anxiously for seven months to see if they had survived the journey.

“Flying from Britain to West Africa and back is incredibly dangerous, with the birds facing many challenges along the way, including the Sahara Desert, adverse weather conditions and illegal hunting. Luckily, they both returned safe and sound at the start of the month, with CJ7 arriving on April 5 and 022 a few days later on April 10.

“Having spent all of last summer together, their instincts to breed this summer kicked in right away and the couple settled into a nest, which is exactly what we were hoping to see.”

The osprey diet consists entirely of fish, which is one of the reasons Poole Harbor was selected for the reintroduction project.

The osprey diet consists entirely of fish

(Getty)

Ospreys that breed in Scotland and northern England pass through the harbor on migration each spring and autumn, feeding on species such as gray mullet and plaice, before continuing their journey.

Poole Harbor has large channels and shallow bays, making it an ideal hunting ground for birds, whose wingspans can reach up to 1.8 metres.

The charity said 022 can regularly be seen hunting in the harbour.

“If the breeding attempt is successful, he will be responsible for providing fish for the whole family for the rest of the season,” the organization said.

It is hoped that CJ7 will be able to lay more eggs over the next week, which will then see a 35-40 day incubation period begin. If all goes as planned, the team is hoping for a late May hatch date.

Mr Morton added: “To know that there is now an osprey egg in a nest in Poole Harbor is nothing short of amazing. It is the culmination of seven years of hard work. Projects like this will take always a while, but it’s so nice to know that the birds have reached this milestone, and seeing CJ7 incubate her first egg is amazing.

“They still have a lot to learn as new parents, and breeding success is certainly not guaranteed. However, everything we’re seeing right now looks really positive, and hopefully by the end May, we’ll start to see them feeding their newly hatched chicks.”

In anticipation, Birds of Poole Harbor installed a live camera on a prime nesting platform to capture the progress of the birds.

But he said he “didn’t expect the camera view to change slightly, thanks to several osprey mating attempts over the past two weeks above the camera.”

The livestream can be viewed at Poole Harbor Birds website and Youtube channel.