Earth Week Heroes: Osprey Thriving in Wash DC

Osprey back in DC

Osprey back on the Anacostia River in Washington DC

This is a success story that involves two continents, youths in troubled neighborhoods, a raft of community volunteers, good science and a cleaned up river in Washington DC. But it doesn’t stop there. Today, the Anacostia River –once among the most polluted rivers in the US — is the home of about 40 ospreys, as well as bald eagles, that feast on fish that aren’t contaminated.  And they are nesting!

Two ospreys– that’s Rodney and Ron – were tracked this year via tiny, solar-powered satellite transmitters they were fitted with last year, to chart their route from wintering grounds in Colombia and Venezuela back to DC. (See link below for the story) Soon, live webcams will be operational and give the public a firsthand view of how these raptors live and care for their young in locations like Washington’s Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

It’s a success that almost wasn’t

For decades, the Anacostia was too fouled with trash, waste and pollution to be viable for fish and provide a food source for these large raptors. Before DDT was banned in the 1970s, fish in the Anacostia were contaminated with the notorious pesticide. Osprey ate the fish, and the DDT caused their eggshells to weaken and thin. Result? DC ospreys were wiped out.

A cornerstone of this story is the Earth Conservation Corps –-a nonprofit youth development and environmental service organization, founded by southeast Washington residents with help from local falconers.  How do you address the twin problems of poverty and pollution? The EEC is a combination of youthful muscle (get on those hipwaders!)  and advocacy to clean up the river, create community pride and gain funding support for their projects. The EEC has attracted partners like Wings Over America, National Geographic and even DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier who’s a big fan.

Scientists and falconers who helped along the way include Rob Bierregard, a raptor expert at the Academy of Natural Sciences (Drexel University, Philadelphia).  He captured Ron and Rodney, outfitted them with the GPS tracking devices and charted their amazing journey. Read the story of Ron and Rodney’s  journey back to DC this spring.

Where Rodney and Ron spent the winter. Sources:, Google Earth

Where Rodney and Ron spent the winter. Sources:, Google Earth

“This is a huge conservation success story,” says Bob Nixon, a local falconer who helped start the Earth Conservation Corps, “We almost lost these birds.”