In 1980, Charles Schaadt wanted to spearhead efforts to bring bald eagles back to the state. But he faced logistical and legal issues involved with trying to bring back the then-endangered bird. Then, someone suggested he focus on osprey.
The problem was, no one had done it. And many thought it couldn’t be done. “That sunk in pretty quickly,” said Schaadt, then a graduate student at East Stroudsburg University.
Living on a lake, I would see ospreys traveling through the Poconos. There seemed to be nest sites and food available, but none of them were staying to nest.”
With no real funding but a few enthusiastic helpers, Schaadt teamed up with Larry Rymon, a biology professor at the university, and set out to bring the birds back. Utilities gave him poles on which to erect hacking towers, the Fish and Boat Commission gave him carp to feed the birds, and grocers gave him space in their freezers to hold the fish. The U.S. Coast Guard took him onto the Chesapeake to retrieve young ospreys from healthy nests.
The young birds were placed on towers above a reservoir and learned to eat carp. But would the young “fish hawks” learn to dive into the lake and catch fish with no parents to teach them? Many thought they wouldn’t. Schaadt and Rymon disagreed.
“We thought it was probably innate,” Schaadt said. Indeed, when osprey left the towers, they would return with a fish in less than half an hour. “It was no problem at all for them to go fishing.”
The birds migrated to South America and the scientists waited to see if they would come back. In 1983, the birds began to return, and two years later the first nesting pair in Pennsylvania since 1945 was documented.
In the meantime, the Wild Resource Conservation Fund was created, providing a solid foundation for the reintroduction, and allowing the project—and ospreys—to spread across the state.
Today, there are more than 65 active nests in at least 17 counties. A reintroduction some thought was impossible has been duplicated in other states and in other countries. “It’s a project that continues to go on.” Schaadt said. “The osprey is being reintroduced around the world. It is a pretty easy thing to do.”