Photo: NASA

Ospreys nesting in Portugal after 13 years

Nature

We haven’t seen anything like this for 13 years. A pair of ospreys was recently spotted in a nest by the sea in Costa Vicentina, Algarve. This species stopped breeding in Portugal in 1997 and the only male was last seen in 2002.

The nest was discovered in September 2014 and from that moment on it was suspected it belonged to an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) pair. On 10th of April 2015, a team of biologists working in CIBIO – Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources confirmed the identity of the nest occupants.

There were times when this case would hardly be a novelty. In Portugal mainland, the osprey used to breed almost along the entire coast, from Pinhal de Leiria to Albufeira. In the beginning of the XX century, there were about 30 osprey pairs. But at the end of 1970s, that number was down to only two. From 1991 onwards, the Portuguese population was reduced to just one pair, in Costa Vicentina. In 1997 the only female was found dead; the male was last seen in 2002.

Since then, Portugal has only been a “vacation” destiny to the ospreys that decide to spend here the winter, far away from the cold of Northern Europe countries, such as United Kingdom, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Portugal’s first census of wintering birds, in January, has counted between 71 and 81 ospreys.

Now, can this be the beginning of the species’ return to Portugal? Spain, Italy and Portugal have on going reintroduction projects to recover the Mediterranean populations, with almost 200 birds released in the region so far.

In Portugal, the project is being developed by CIBIO since 2011 in Alentejo, on the banks of Alqueva lake dam, with the financial help of EDP utility company.

According to CIBIO, “two osprey males reintroduced in Alqueva were recently photographed, one in Alqueva dam and the other in Pedrógão dam”. The scientists believe that soon we may witness the breeding of the first pairs in the Alentejo region. “We are going to monitor the dams so as to be able to identify the birds and any attempt to mark a breeding territory”, scientist Luís Palma said.

The two ospreys seen in a nest by the sea in Costa Vicentina didn’t have a ring, so it’s impossible to know their origin. Luís Palma believes their presence is related to the reintroduction efforts in the Mediterranean region.

For the near future, Luís Palma says it will be needed local measures to reconcile human populations with the species conservation.