Chesapeake Bay Field Office
Northeast Region
Guidelines to Protect Nesting Osprey in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia

General Behavior
Seven day old osprey. Photo by Craig Koppie, USFWS
Seven day old osprey. Photo by Craig Koppie, USFWS

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are fish-eating raptors found along shorelines and open marshes in coastal regions. Unlike other raptors that primarily nest in trees, forested habitat is not a limiting factor for the osprey. They have adapted to a changing landscape and now nest in any type of elevated, man-made structure near water.

Ospreys have traditionally nested on navigational structures, such as buoys or channel markers, but over the years have expanded into areas closer to human habitation. Ospreys now use cell towers, transmission lines, bridge spans, construction cranes, boats, piers, and other manmade structures as choice nesting areas. Nests have been observed from ground level to more than 300 feet.

Osprey-human conflicts are increasing, primarily between March-August, which is the designated nesting season. Scheduled contracts for painting, maintenance or structural repair often overlap with their nesting season. In many cases, osprey nests impede the use or function of a structure, which can affect human health and safety. Generally, conflicts are greatest when nests are constructed on telecommunication towers, electric utility poles, transmission towers, bridges or airport runway structures.

Ospreys are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA prohibits the purposeful take or attempting to purposefully take any migratory bird, nest, and eggs or parts thereof, unless permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). To Take is defined as, to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, possess, or collect any migratory bird species, their nests or their eggs. The Chesapeake Bay Field Office is responsible for evaluating impacts of projects or activities on migratory birds in Maryland, Delaware, and D.C. Also, see April 11, 2018 Guidance of the recent M-Opinion affecting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (PDF).

Osprey Nesting Cycle and Guidelines for Removal of Problem Nests

By understanding the osprey’s nesting cycle, impacts to and conflicts with nesting osprey can be reduced or eliminated.

March Arrival of adults from wintering destinations
April Egg laying; incubation
May-June Rearing of young
July-Aug. Fledging
Aug.-Sept. Migration to Central-South America

  • All nests are deemed inactive from September through February when ospreys are at their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Inactive nests do not need a migratory bird permit or permission to remove nests.

  • Ospreys return year after year in early March, often re-occupying the same nesting territories. A nest is considered inactive if there are no eggs or young present in the nest.  Active nests that fail to hatch by July 15 are no longer considered active, and can be treated the same as inactive nests.

  • A nest should only be removed if it threatens human health or safety, poses potential risk of injury to the osprey parents or their offspring, or conflicts with normal use or function of property or equipment.

  • Be advised, once removal of a nest has begun, you must be vigilant and continue to remove sticks. Ospreys are persistent nest builders and will do so for several weeks to follow. If ospreys lay eggs while you are actively trying to remove the nest, you must cease all activities.

  • All nests with eggs or young that need to be removed must be done through U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wildlife Services HOTLINE at 1-877-463-6497.

  • Cell tower maintenance on structures with active osprey nests should not occur between April 1st and August 15th. If maintenance is necessary contact U.S. Department of Agriculture; Wildlife Service’s HOTLINE at 1-877-463-6497.

  • Avoiding and Minimizing Disturbance of Ospreys
    Osprey nest on farm grain elevator.
    Photo by Craig Koppie, USFWS
    Osprey nest on farm grain elevator. Photo by Craig Koppie, USFWS

  • Minimize activities near active nests. Avoid disturbing adult osprey that are incubating or brooding as this may cause excessive cold or heat on eggs or newly hatched chicks. Close human contact may cause osprey young to become nervous and jump from the nest structure.

  • Retrofit problematic nest sites during the non-nesting season (September through February) to discourage future use. Retrofits include, but are not limited to, impeding direct access to perch or landing areas at the nest site or creating a gabled roof apparatus above potential nest areas to deter stick placement.

  • Construct an artificial nest pole/platform. The platform can be extended above an undesired nest location or, in the case of electric power poles, a taller pole can be erected near or above, the problem area.

  • Additional Information

    For general information about migratory birds, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 5, Migratory Bird and State Permits Office at 413-253-8643.

    For help with injured birds, contact TRI-STATE Bird Rescue and Research at 302-737-9543.

    To report possible violations to migratory birds or other wildlife, contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement at 410-573-4514.

    Some migratory birds in the Chesapeake Bay area:

    Bald Eagle

    Black Rail

    Canada Goose


    Cerulean Warbler

    Field Sparrow

    Great Blue Heron

    Red Knot


    USFWS Office of Migratory Bird Management

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    Last updated: June 6, 2018