Last week she reappeared, after a winter away: Mazie the Osprey has again settled atop the trusses of the Southport Swing Bridge.
Local lore has it that she’s been there forever, but of course that can’t be true. Before 1939, there were no trusses to nest upon, for the bridge did not yet exist. And then there’s the bleaker truth: by the 1970s, there were almost no ospreys left in this country.
Seeing Mazie offered an important reminder of the resilience of nature—she survived an existential threat, and we will too.
Ospreys are regal, soaring above coves and inlets not only in the Boothbay Region but throughout the world. They are a thrill to observe on the hunt: Gliding along the water’s surface and abruptly braking to a full-stop hover in midair—fluttering wings a show of aerodynamic art—they all at once drop and splash. Clasped in talons as the bird rises, the fish never had a chance.
Nesting in April and May, usually three or four eggs to a nest, it is not uncommon for only one or two fledglings to survive from a brood. Those odds were drastically reduced by the discovery in 1939 (the same year the Swing Bridge was built) that the chemical compound dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane—DDT—was wildly efficient as an insecticide.
Though prized by government and industry to protect crops and control mosquitoes, its efficacy came with a stunning cost. DDT was poison, and birds of prey—bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and (yes) ospreys—bore the brunt of unintended consequences from its wide use. As the chemical made its way up the food chain from insect to prey to predators, the poison increased in concentration. Among the effects: thinning of eggshells, which were so easily crushed during incubation that often a nest of four eggs would yield no osprey chicks.
Osprey populations were devastated by DDT. Within 30 years of its introduction into the agriculture industry, breeding pairs along the East Coast declined by 90%. By 1976, the osprey was designated an endangered species in most of the country.
The future looked bleak for Mazie—but things got better.
Recognizing its harm, the government banned DDT in 1972. Conservationists mobilized to support the bird’s restoration, tracking populations and studying habits. Federal, state, and private agencies erected artificial nesting platforms all along the East Coast, including in this region (visit Cozy Harbor for a look). Populations rebounded, and Mazie’s annual appearance among the trusses of the Southport Swing Bridge became more reliable.
As surely as Mazie’s head emerges watchfully from the nest atop her metallic home, as dependably as she and her fledglings will soon glide and dive around Townsend Gut, we too will recover our communal life. Things got better for Mazie, and they will for us too.