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Michigan osprey chicks fly with ‘backpacks’

The Detroit News

What do you do when young birds important to Michigan’s emerging osprey population need to be tagged but are way up in the sky?

You climb to them and fit them with GPS devices.

Wildlife biologist Julie Oakes returns an osprey chick to its platform. “We have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020,” she said. “We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list and restore their numbers in Michigan.”

Four osprey chicks from nesting areas in southern Michigan were recently outfitted with “backpacks,” telemetry units that will help the state’s Department of Natural Resources track the emerging population.

The backpacks, which use GPS and other tracking systems, will help scientists follow the young birds’ daily movements and seasonal migration patterns.

Since 1998, the DNR began relocating ospreys to southern Michigan, supported by donations to the state’s Nongame Wildlife Fund. In 2013, the DNR and volunteers identified at least 56 active nests, up from a single active nest in 2002.

The recently banded birds were hatched in nests on towers at Kensington Metropark in Milford and Sterling State Park in Monroe. Climbing the man-made towers were crews from Clearlink Wireless Solutions, Skyline Services LLC, Newkirk-Electric and Earthcom Inc., who had to reach the chicks to band them and deploy transmitters.

“"This is a true wildlife success story," said Julie Oakes, DNR wildlife biologist. "Each year we have new nests. We have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020. We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list and restore their numbers in Michigan."

To follow the birds along each leg of their journey, visit Michigan’s osprey website at www.michiganosprey.org. The young birds will begin migration in early to mid-September and it likely will be a couple of years before they return, according to the DNR. Ospreys usually spend their first two years in Central and South America before heading northward to next.

Julie Oakes and Brian Washburn outfit an osprey chick with a GPS “backpack,” a telemetry unit that will help the state’s Department of Natural Resources track the emerging population, at Sterling State Park.