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Expert Voices

Wanted: Osprey Watchers as Citizen-Scientists

voices, Bryan Watts, William and Mary, osprey
An osprey shows its distinctive chocolate-and-cream coloration as it soars over the James River in Virginia. (Image credit: Photo by John DiGiorgio, College of William and Mary)

Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, contributed this article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

People love their birds, and we’ve discovered that people with ospreys nesting on their property form a particular attachment.

So we had an idea: What if we could harness that interest? We run into all these waterfront property owners who like to talk about the ospreys that have been nesting for years on their docks or in trees. There had to be a way to turn osprey watchers into citizen-scientists. That was the impetus to the founding of OspreyWatch, now in its second year.

Over the next few weeks, bird watchers throughout the northern hemisphere will welcome ospreys as they return to their breeding grounds. For many, the time marks both the arrival of spring and the hope for a productive breeding season. For ornithologists, spring’s the busiest time of year. So, if you have some ospreys, we can use your help.

I’m the director of the Center for Conservation Biology, a research group based at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. My colleagues and I are once again inviting the world’s osprey watchers to officially become OspreyWatchers and share their observations with us. You’ll also join a growing global online community of citizen-scientists, linked by an interest in osprey biology and a concern for aquatic environments.

In its debut 2012 season, OspreyWatch included a network of more than 800 observers that recorded observations on 1,600 nests in five countries. It was a great start, but we need more.

Your observations become data points that help us understand this important species. Everyone knows them as magnificent birds, but you also should know that ospreys are one of a very few truly global sentinels for aquatic health.

Ospreys feed almost exclusively on live fish throughout their entire life cycle. They are a top consumer within aquatic ecosystems and are very sensitive to both overfishing and environmental contaminants.

Nearly all osprey populations breed in the northern latitudes and winter in the southern latitudes, effectively linking the aquatic health of the hemispheres, and because their breeding season in the north is highly seasonal, ospreys are an effective barometer of climate change.

Our goal with OspreyWatch is to engage a community of observers to record breeding information on a scale large enough to be useful in monitoring aquatic health.

OspreyWatch is a user-friendly, web-based platform that allows observers across the globe to map their nests and log observations. You can also upload photos and discuss your birds with other OspreyWatchers and osprey scientists.

Editor’s Note: More information on this project is available at and on their Facebook page.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.