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It appears that Stockton Lake is back to normal this summer, if Liberty’s ospreys are any indication. And that’s a good thing.

The ospreys in question have been watched by viewers for years on Osprey Cam, a 24/7 live feed offered by Joplin-based Liberty. The birds’ nest had caught fire in 2014 after coming in contact with a power line, so Liberty moved the nest in 2015 to a nesting box at Stockton Lake and set up the camera for viewers.

For many summers, the mated pair — thought to be the same pair returning each year — were successful at their nest box. Healthy osprey pairs tend to lay two to four eggs and generally raise two or three chicks per year; for several years in a row, this pair hatched all four eggs that they laid and raised their chicks until they fledged.

But then there were a few difficult years. In 2019, the pair, for the first time since the camera launched, ended the summer with no chicks at all when three eggs didn’t hatch and their only chick died. Last summer, the pair had four chicks; one died shortly after hatching.

Things now are turning around. A check at Osprey Cam this week shows the pair once again with four chicks, all apparently thriving after hatching several weeks ago.

So why does this matter? Why should we care about this little avian family?

Osprey populations were never common in Missouri, and what few birds we had dropped off decades ago because of pesticide use and hunting. But conservation efforts have been paying off. Ten to 20 nesting pairs were documented across Missouri as of 2014; by 2018, Liberty had 11 osprey nest boxes in the Stockton Lake area alone, all of which were believed to be occupied.

And because osprey primarily eat fish, their success at raising a family depends largely on the quantity and quality of fish to which they have access, which in turn reflects the quality of the water on which they — and we — depend.

“If you’ve got clean water (and) good healthy streams and lakes, then you’re going to have a good healthy fish population, and they’re relying on the fish,” Kyle Hedges, a wildlife management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, told us in 2018. “To me, they represent an overall quality environment situation.”

That Liberty’s ospreys once again have four chicks on their way to fledging is a promising sign that Stockton Lake is a strong and healthy ecosystem, and that benefits all of us.

To view Osprey Cam, go to mclivetech.com/ospreycam.

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