News 3 ‘tags’ along on conservationists’ journey to band ospreys for research

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The osprey bird is making a huge comeback in population in our area.

Keeping up with their breeding, migration and life span data is all done by aluminum bands that are fastened to the bird's legs. News 3 Photojournalist Dax Gray went on the water to see how it's done.

Reese Lukei Jr. inspects a 30 day old Osprey

"Banding birds is important because it lets us learn about their migratory habits, their forging habits, and it lets us know about longevity too. How long birds live," said Crystal Matthews with the Virginia Aquarium.

What exactly does banding tell us about the birds?

"We learn where they go, how long they stay, it can tell us whether or not they are returning to the same nest year after year, which is what we always suspected, but now we can tell that for certain because of the banding on the bird's legs," Reese Lukei, Jr., Volunteer Research Associate with the Center of Conservation at William & Mary.

Crystal Matthews makes contact with adolescent Osprey in their nest

Right now, they're monitoring about 90-100 nests. Lukei, Jr. said osprey "almost exclusively" nest in dead tree tops and that today, the majority of them sit atop some man-made structure.

He says the public has actually contributed to the birds' nesting success, especially due to the platforms that people put up at the end of their docks or in the waterways.

While tagging ospreys is crucial to learning more about the birds' survival, not just anyone has the ability to band the birds. Matthew Klepeisz with the Aquarium stressed the importance of having trained experts to do the job right.

Aluminum bands help researchers find out where the birds originated from

"Working with these animals, handling them safely - this is not something we trust just anyone to get up there and do," Klepeisz said.

He said ospreys must be at least 30-40 days old in order for conservationists to band them; otherwise, the bands won't fit their legs. The birds will then fly when they reach the age of 52-54 days, so they'll still have three weeks in the nest.

As far as the birds' comfort is concerned, Kleipesz said the bands are so light - made out of aluminum - and loose-fitting that the birds don't even notice that they're there.

Click here for more information about Osprey Watch.