This Week’s Creature Feature ... The Flight of the Osprey

Tagged with a transmitter, one bird’s migration ends in tragedy, mystery

Researcher Rob Bierregaard and his team climb into nests to tag East Coast osprey with radio transmitters. This fall, 11 birds are carrying transmitters that enable Bierregaard to track their every move.
    Birds have strong individual idiosyncrasies in their migration. Yet laid atop one another the migration lines form a clear pattern: East Coast Birds cling to that coast all the way down through Florida.
    Follow Cutch from Long Island, Bierregaard suggests, to see the singular drama in the bigger story.
    From September 10 to 12, Cutch flew 509 miles, about 170 miles a day. That, Bierregaard notes, is about average for a migrating osprey.
    Cutch crossed the lower Chesapeake on September 12 in about an hour, flying at 25 miles an hour.
    He covered his biggest distance on the 13th: 286 miles from North to South Carolina.    
    Jumping off from Florida’s southeastern tip or the Keys, osprey make the shortest possible crossing across the Florida Straits into Cuba. Tracking across the island, they make another short crossing to Hispanola.
    Both landmasses can be deadly with hurricanes plus fish and chicken farmers protecting their interests. If the birds make it across the island, many head for Cabo Beata in the Dominican Republic, the southernmost point of Hispanola.
    That’s the jump-off for the big crossing of more than 400 miles over the Caribbean. Most cross pretty directly. Cutch landed beyond the Guajira Peninsula, the northernmost tip of Colombia. Other popular routes include Bonaire to the top of Venezuela.
    Cutch passed safely through all those dangers. Then his signal stopped moving. Was he shot? Drowned in a fishing net? Impaled on a dive?
    Google Earth located his transmitter in a Fish and Wildlife Service office on the outskirts of El Barrial, where birders in the Neotropical Raptor Group had found the dead bird’s body. While there is no answer to what killed Cutch, the transmitter will be used to track the flight of another bird.
    See the full migration at www.bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/migration12.htm.
    Follow Cutch’s journey at www.bioweb.uncc.edu/bierregaard/maps12/Cutch%202012.htm.