A recent report from Audubon Society of Rhode Island, a wildlife conservation organization, recorded the highest number of osprey fledglings throughout the state since monitoring of the species began in 1977.
In 2016, as a part of the Audubon Osprey Monitoring Program, more than 100 volunteers recorded 297 fledglings. That's up from 239 in 2015 and up from just eight in 1977.
Jon Scoones, director of volunteer services at Audubon and author of the report, said since 98 percent of the bird's diet is fish, the steady increase in fledglings could be due to the state's waterways being opened.
"The removal of the dams in several of the rivers make it so the fish can go further upstream, and if the fish can go further upstream, that means the osprey can follow them upstream, they can have access to those fish now spread out a little bit more throughout Rhode Island," Scoones said.
Scoones said more access to fish means ospreys can feed all of their young instead of just one or two.
Scoones said other factors contributing to the increase could be a larger fish population in general because of the state's better water quality and an increase in the number of Audubon volunteers monitoring osprey nests.
Scoones said it's important for the number of fledglings in the state to keep going up because they benefit Rhode Islanders and the environment.
"Osprey are a wonderful indicator species because they only eat fish. So if there’s a problem with the water or the fish or the habitat, it’s going to show up in the osprey," Scoones said.
Ospreys helped scientists realize a widely-used pesticide in the 1950s called DDT was impacting the aquatic ecosystem, Scoones said.
Ospreys were eating fish swimming in contaminated waters. DDT would "bioaccumulate" in the birds' system, causing them to lay eggs with soft shells that would be crushed when the mother tried to sit on them.
DDT was banned in 1972.
Ospreys are monitored bi-weekly every year from April to July.