Monday, December 29, 2008

Species Profile: Osprey

I haven't been birding in, well, forever.
That means, it's time for a species profile!

(Pandion haliaetus)

As its common name (fish eagle) suggests, the Osprey's diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It has evolved specialized physical characteristics and exhibits unique behaviors to assist in hunting and catching prey. Because of its unique characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genus, Pandion and family, Pandionidae. Four subspecies are usually recognized.

  • Large raptor.
  • White breast and belly.
  • Black back and wings.
  • Long wings, held with wingtips angled slightly backwards.(Flying "M")
  • Dark eyestripe.
  • Crown and forehead white.
  • Size: 21-26 inches
  • Wingspan: 59-71 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 to 4 pounds
(Female is larger than male)

Short, chirping whistles (kip kip kip kip...up to 20 calls in six seconds)

Breeds in variety of habitats with shallow water and large fish, including boreal forest ponds, desert salt-flat lagoons, temperate lakes, and tropical coasts. Winters along large bodies of water containing fish.
Osprey migrate for the winter. European osprey go to Africa, American and Canadian osprey go to South America (though some may only go as far as Florida and California), and Australasian osprey do not migrate at all.

Osprey dive into water feet-first to catch fish. Will often hover before taking the plunge.
(Osprey have no downy feathers, to help them dry off faster after fishing...another reason they migrate for the winter. Can't keep warm if you don't have downy feathers)
They have sharp spicules on the undersides of their feet, to better grab and hold onto slippery fish. Osprey have "closable" nostrils to keep water out of their lungs, and a special polarized lens in their eyes to aid them in looking into deep water.

When a fish is caught and the bird is flying to perch and eat, they will turn the fish so that it is facing forward, to make them more aerodynamic and reducing birds)

Osprey build a large stick nest, either on a man-made platform specifically built for that purpose, or will use telephone poles, highway signs, channel markers, etc. Nesting materials have included brush wood, sea wood, corn stalks, shingles, small floats, toy boat, eggs of sharks, old brooms, old shoes, fishing line, cans, doormats, sheep bones (especially skulls), sod with the grass still growing.

It usually takes an osprey three years to reach breeding maturity.
One to four eggs are laid and incubation lasts for about 5 weeks. Young will fledge in eight to ten weeks.

Interesting facts:

The osprey suffered greatly from the wide-spread use of DDT from the 50's through the 70's.
Through the banning of DDT, their numbers have risen, though they are still listed as endangered or threatened in some states, especially in inland states where populations were extirpated during the pesticide years.
Also detrimental to their population was the stealing of eggs by collectors and poaching.

Nisos, a king in Greek mythology, became an osprey to attack his daughter after she fell in love with Minos, the king of Crete.

Pliny the Elder wrote that adult osprey forced their young to fly into the sun, and killed the ones that failed.

There was a medieval belief that fish were so mesmerized by osprey that they would turn belly-up in surrender.

used a gray wandering osprey as a representation of sorrow in The Wandering of Oision and Other Poems.

And finally....
Susan would very much like to have an education osprey for programs.


LauraHinNJ said...

I love osprey and miss them in the wintertime!

They're hard to keep in captivity, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love Osprey. They are such wondrous birds. I uploaded some pics to your Righteous Raptors group on Flickr. One of them is of a nesting pair on Mono Lake -- an inland sea on the eastern edge of California. There are no fish there but these Osprey nest their every year. They commute to nearby freshwater lakes to get food and then they come back to their nests. It's amazing. The rangers there have stories about the babies fledging off the platforms and ending up in the drink. They used a boat oar and the baby just walked right up and into the boat. They were later returned to the nest. It happened with both fledglings on the nest I posted. Anyway, thanks for the profile on the Osprey.

Dave said...

U.S.F.&W. gave us a Christmas present by adding an osprey to our education permit. I'll keep you updated.

Great profile!

Jayne said...

Amazing birds! Hope you get one someday. :c)

Kallen305 said...

I enjoyed reading your profile on the osprey, especially the interesting little tidbits you provided.

I have never seen one before so it is a treat to learn about them.

I hope you get your wish and can include them in your education program.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Wonderful profile. How do those nostrils work, any idea?

Lynne said...

Fun profile Susan. I thought I heard somewhere that osprey are particularly difficult to rehab and that they don't trasition well to captive life. They sure are beautiful

I think you should ask for another turkey vulture instead.

Windyridge said...

Love these birds. We have a one acre pond out front and often I see one fishing. One day he or she banked into a turn right in front of my upstairs window. What a treat that was!

dAwN said...

Susan, thanks for all the good Osprey info!

NCmountainwoman said...

If I had an extra Osprey, I would certainly send it your way. I just love those great birds.

Kyle said...

Excellent profile, Susan -- thanks! Yet another great raptor that I've never seen in person. One of these days...

Hope y'all have a safe and Happy New Year!

Mary said...

I think you covered everything :o) The Osprey photos I've seen are fabulous carrying the catch of the day. I love em'!

amarkonmywall said...

You have been much on my mind lately as I'm beginning to work at the raptor rehab center at our local nature preserve here in St. Petersburg for the winter. They are in quite a state with their program birds-not doing well in terms of handling. Some that were well glove trained have regressed, some they can't even get on the glove. They were hoping I might help with my little experience giving the BOP talk at the zoo in Chicago. Snort. I'll be contacting you shortly. And often. :-) And who wouldn't want an osprey program bird??? Happy New Year, Susan.

Susan Gets Native said...

As far as I know, there is a nasal "valve" that they can close as they hit the water.
I wish I had nasal valves. Would make swimming more fun.

Kathiesbirds said...

Sorry you haven't been birding in so long but so glad you posted this. I learned alot, especially the part about them seeing deep in water. Amazing. I also did not know that they don't have downy feathers. Remarkable!

JohnnieCanuck said...

A friend just pointed out this link to me, earlier today.

By the sounds of it, you and your commenters will enjoy this slide show. Fast internet connection would be good, but worth it in any case, I'd say. Over 30 great pictures of Ospreys.

Julia G said...

Just discovered your blog, thanks for the beautiful photos! Here on the Connecticut shoreline we have an osprey cam you might want to check out come March --it's been running for the last few years, and it's great fun watching the chicks hatch, grow into gangly teenagers, and fly off. Last year an observant viewer actually alerted the local fire department when one of the chicks got tangled in some plastic netting and was rescued by boat and ladder: