Ospreys, Still Threatened In Illinois, Are Making A Comeback

CHICAGO (AP) — After essentially disappearing from Illinois, the osprey is making a comeback thanks to a decades-long effort to eliminate harmful pesticides and provide safe places for the large, slender hawks to nest.

The raptors remain a threatened species in Illinois. But 14 nesting pairs settled this season in platforms placed on top of tall poles throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Chicago Tribune reported. The district placed the platforms in areas to resemble the birds’ preferred treetop nesting habitat, and now has 20 sites around the county. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a similar effort across the state.

Three of Cook County's 14 nests were lost when tornados hit parts of the Chicago area earlier this summer. But generally, there has been a slow and steady increase in occupied platforms and nesting pairs in recent decades. Experts say it's due largely to the removal to environmental toxins like DDT, a pesticide banned in 1972 that thinned the shells of the raptors' eggs, making it nearly impossible for offspring to survive.

“It can take a bird that’s basically everywhere and does really great under most circumstances and take it to the brink,” said Doug Stotz, senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum. “And it also shows that we can change that. That we’ve turned things around for osprey to a tremendous degree.”

Ospreys have wingspans reaching 5 feet, with pads to grip their prey, making them skilled at fishing.