The osprey, once a seriously threatened Vineyard bird, has made a significant recovery. The osprey population on the Vineyard has doubled and doubled again in recent years. The recovery comes from a well proven nesting pole program developed by Gus Ben David, director of Massachusetts Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.

Last Sunday, under a blue sky, another osprey pole was put up overlooking Nantucket Sound at Harthaven by a handful of volunteers. It was the 13th pole to be raised this year, and the 47th pole to go up since Mr. Ben David began his save the ospreys project in 1971. Next spring, it is almost assured, a young pair of osprey will make a nest of sticks on top of this pole.

“It’s been pretty well documented, years ago, that three breeding pairs was the most ospreys on the Island at one time,” Mr. Ben David said. In those days ospreys were considered a pest and were frequently shot at.
“This year, we had 26 breeding pairs. Fifty-five young ospreys were fledged,” Mr. Ben David said.

The return of the osprey is not entirely a local event. Many Island-raised ospreys have been showing up on the Cape and Nantucket, helping to replenish the numbers there. Mr. Ben David’s technique of pole raising to offer the bird a place to nest is now being used elsewhere.

“I think that the bird itself is the attraction,” Mr. Ben David said. The public has responded strongly to helping the bird in its comeback. “Ospreys are a very specialized raptor. They feed exclusively on fish. They are spectacular to watch as they fish. Overhead they are graceful. They are mild tempered. And they are vocal.”

Mr. Ben David said ospreys on the Vineyard have attracted attention from those people who aren’t much into bird watching. Of the 47 osprey poles standing on the Vineyard, the majority of them stand on private property. He said: “We have two at Felix Neck and there is one at Long Point owned by the Trustees of Reservations. The rest are privately owned.” Most of the cost of the poles is supported either by the landowner or through private contributions specifically for the project.

Mr. Ben David said: “People relate to the osprey recovery. It is a direct conservation effort where people can participate and see something in the end. Some people get tired of funding scientific efforts because there is nothing to show for the effort. This has results. It is often that I hear from people who say they saw an osprey the other day.”

The first pole raised Sunday went up in Vineyard Haven at the home of John Hersey.

“We put it just where Mr. Hersey can look out and see the bird from his house,” said Michael Zoll, director of the county extension service and one of Sunday’s volunteer pole raisers. Among the volunteers were Karen Ogden of the sanctuary, Tom and Cathy Chase of Long Point Wildlife Refuge and Sandra Lucas, the state environmental police officer. Also assisting was Barbara Prada, Edgartown animal control officer, and longtime friend and supporter of the osprey effort Tim (Rangus) Baird of Edgartown and his wife.

Ten poles were raised by hand this year. Three other poles were raised
through the assistance of Commonwealth Electric, Mr. Ben David said. “We couldn’t do all this work without their help.”

Ospreys will only build their nests on tall dead trees. Years ago there were many more dead trees around for nest building. When the dead trees began to decline, the birds began nesting on dangerous, live utility poles.

The pole put up Sunday at Harthaven is now the most visible pole on the Vineyard for the passing general public. Anyone in a car or bicycle driving on the beach road from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown can see it.

The 30-foot pole stands on a piece of barrier beach — on one side it faces the open sea and on the other side it faces the small Harthaven harbor.

“This is a guaranteed pole. It is highly probable that it will be used by a osprey pair because of its proximity, its geography,” Mr. Ben David said. Not all poles have an equally high rate of success.

This pole was donated in the memory of Joshua Maddry, 16, son of Martha Moore of West Hartford and West Tisbury. Joshua died this past summer from cancer. The pole was donated by his grandfather, Maxwell Moore.

Mr. Moore, of Farmington, Conn., and Harthaven, said: “It it is dedicated to Joshua because he was particularly attracted to birds. Therefore it seems fitting to honor his memory with an osprey pole. It would mean so much to him if he was here.”

That afternoon, after raising the pole, Mr. Ben David said there would be champagne when the group raised the 50th pole. But for now it was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Long Point.