Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
The osprey has a wingspan of 4.5 to 6 feet and stands about 2 feet tall. It is brown on its upperside and white on its face, the top of its head, throat, chest, and belly. It has a dark line on the side of its face that runs over its yellow eyes. The osprey has powerful legs and pale gray feet with sharp talons that help it catch fish. The osprey's feet have rough, pointed scales on them that help the osprey hold onto the fish it catches. Its feet have two toes pointing backwards that also help the osprey grab and hold onto fish. The osprey is also known as the fish hawk.
The osprey is found on every continent, except Antarctica. In North America, the osprey breeds from Alaska, north-central Canada, and Newfoundland south to Arizona and New Mexico . It is also found along the Gulf, Atlantic, and Pacific Coasts. It winters from the southern United States south to South America.
The osprey hovers about 100 feet over the water and uses its excellent eyesight to spot fish. When it locates a fish, it dives feet-first with its talons outstretched straight into the water and grabs its prey. It takes off from the water and adjusts the fish in its talons so the fish is facing head first. This makes the fish more aerodynamic and easier to carry! The osprey then flies to a perch to eat its catch. Sometimes, bald eagles steal fish from ospreys! Once in a while an osprey captures a fish that is too big. If it can't let go of the fish, it tries to drag it to shore. If that fails, the osprey can be pulled under the water by the weight of the fish and drown.
Osprey pairs build large nests of sticks lined with seaweed, grass, and other soft materials. Nests are always built within a few miles of water and are usually built 10-60 feet above the ground. Nests can be built on a variety of natural and man-made structures including dead treetops, cliffs, telephone poles, channel markers,
communication towers, buildings, billboards,
and specially designed osprey nest platforms. Nest platforms have been placed in areas where osprey numbers have dropped in an effort to lure the bird back.
The pesticide DDT led to a drop in osprey populations between the 1950s and 1970s. The pesticide DDT, which was used to control insects that damaged crops, was getting into the food that the osprey ate. The pesticide made it more difficult for the osprey to absorb calcium and the lack of calcium made the shells of the osprey's eggs thinner. Many eggs broke before they could hatch and the osprey population dropped. DDT use was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972, and the osprey population has slowly recovered.
Audio Credit: xeno-canto.org Don Jones