Nfld. & Labrador

U.S. researcher tracking N.L. osprey on long-distance flight south

Newfoundland's hawks may be some of the greatest athletes of the bird world, and one U.S. researcher is hoping tags tracking movements of the osprey will show their amazing journey.

Eastern Canadian osprey make incredible journey every year, says ornithologist Rob Bierregaard

A US ornithologist talked to the CBC's Mark Quinn about the tagging of Hawks in NL. 2:28

Newfoundland's hawks may be some of the greatest athletes of the bird world, and one U.S. researcher is hopeful tracking devices will show their journey.

Ornithologist Rob Bierregaard recently raised the funds to tag some of the province's osprey, and hopes the tracking devices will shed light on the amazing journey these powerful birds make to South America each fall.

Osprey have been spotted in Newfoundland and Labrador, dive-bombing from the sky to pull a fish from the water.

They do have some weapons.- Rob Bierregaard

But fewer people know this bird is more than just a skilled hunter: It's a long-distance flier, too.

Bierregaard, a research associate at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, has tracked the migration of U.S. ospreys for decades. When he learned the birds are in Newfoundland and Labrador too, he had to visit.

"I wondered, wow, what are those young ospreys going to do on their first trip?" said Bierregaard.

"They are looking at maybe 2,000 miles of crossing over the open Atlantic that, I thought, just had to be documented."

Researcher Rob Bierregaard is tracking osprey as they fly from Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula to South America. (Cathy Dolan)

Unlike seabirds, osprey can't rest on water. It means many of the more than 100 birds he's tracked in the U.S. don't survive migration.

'First trips into the unknown'

This summer, Bierregaard trapped adult osprey and first-time migrators in N.L. and strapped radio transmitters to their backs.

It's a task that takes some skill, to avoid the bird's long talons and sharp beaks.

"They do have some weapons, you do have to be careful," said Bierregaard.

But he said the odds are stacked against the birds.

The researcher wants to see if these birds learn from experience. Do they fly directly over the ocean repeatedly, or do they take safer, over-land routes as they mature?

Those are just some of the questions Bierregaard is hoping to answer.

"That will be fascinating to see what the experienced adults do, and even more exciting will be following the four young birds that will be heading south on their first trips into the unknown," said Bierregaard.