Why Teach About Osprey and DDT?

March 28th, 2011 by Sarah

An Osprey mid-flight at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Northeast Region.

Spring’s arrival is marked by the return of osprey to the Chesapeake.  Osprey can be found in almost every corner of the globe, but they are especially abundant here in the Chesapeake Watershed.  This has not always been the case though.  Did you know that like the Bald Eagle, osprey suffered a large population decline during the 1950-70’s as a result of the effects of DDT?

Why Should YOU Teach about Osprey?

The osprey population recovery is a great success story for bay conservation issues!  Some may say that the Chesapeake Bay is too polluted to ever really be healthy again, but the osprey is proof that when we identify a problem and focus our resources nature’s resilience can lead to great environmental recoveries.

DDT, an organochloride, was once widely used as a pesticide.  Unfortunately, this chemical is able to bioaccumulate and through biomagnification, is concentrated up through the food web.  It can cause bird eggshells to become so thin that they can crack during incubation, decreasing the hatch rate of chicks.  The decreased survival rate of chicks caused major population declines in bird species such as the osprey.

The United States EPA ban DDT in 1972.  As a result of this ban, and the construction of artificial nesting boxes, osprey populations have made a great recovery.  Today, osprey are a common sight, and it is estimated that approximately 2,000 pairs currently nest in the Chesapeake Bay region alone!

How Can YOU Teach about Osprey?

Osprey in the Chesapeake Bay can be used to teach about a wide variety of topics.  The osprey’s position at the top of the Chesapeake Bay food web, and the species high visibility make it a valuable indicator species that can help determine the health of the ecosystem.  You can also use osprey to introduce science classes to topics like bioaccumulation, chemicals, toxins, ecology, food webs, environmental successes, and population studies.  Incorporate osprey into English classes by having students read Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs and write a book report.  Want to learn more about osprey?  Check out these resources:

Lesson Plans

Sarah Brzezinski a Chesapeake Conservancy Intern and serves as the manager of Bay Backpack. She is a former Chesapeake Research Consortium/Chesapeake Bay Program Fostering Stewardship Staffer.