Osprey NC 02/15 article

I've always been fascinated with the osprey, otherwise known as the sea hawk. A fast, bold bird who fully plunges deep into the water in search of its only food source - fish. Here is an article, another of my earliest writing attempts, that appeared in The North Columbia Monthly.

Adult osprey in flight over northern reaches of Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, northern Stevens County, Washington State.

Osprey nest in cottonwood snag top on Wiseman Island in Curlew Lake in NW Ferry County, Washington State.

 It is the opposable outer toe that enables the rotation of the fish to allowing for better aerodynamics in lift off and flight.

The osprey, a common bird in northeastern Washington is a hawk with the scientific name of pandion haliaetus.

As many folks know, osprey are easily identified. Why? Predominately because it is a large bird with very distinct markings, a unique flight posture and a notable, sharp call.

 Looking at the field markings we note a distinctive head with white crest; the face is bisected by a dark-eye stripe that highlights sharp yellow eyes. The Osprey sports a mostly white breast and belly with only a few dark streaks. And while viewing the underside of the bird in flight we see the white feathers extend out on the wings the primaries, secondary’s and tail feathers have a black & white mottled look.

Osprey’s communicate with a clear, sharp, undulating, whistle like call.

When observed during flight note the osprey’s long wings are bent at the “wrist”. This configuration is what gives them the ability to make very rapid, sharp turns during flight. When fishing the osprey dives head first into the water, but uniquely, and very hard to see, is that this bird extends it’s talons downward, lining them up close it’s beak. The dive is very fast, sometimes originating at over 100’ above the water surface, with the wings tucked and folded back for greater speed control. Head first into the water and head first out of the water. Much different than an eagle fishing.

The osprey’s powerful wings allow them to take flight off the water, with talons gripping a fish that is  held headfirst by an opposable outer toe that is able to rotate the fish to allow for better aerodynamics while in lift-off and flight.

With a diet of almost exclusively small to medium sized fish it is no surprise that prime osprey habitat is in areas of rivers, estuaries, salt marshes, lakes, reservoirs, and other large bodies of water that support the fish populations upon which the osprey feeds.

Osprey’s also have a very distinctive behavioral trait that stands them apart from other avian; they build large nests near on top of tree snags or structures similar to dead trees, such as utility or nesting poles. Dissecting an osprey nest we discover they are made of branches, sticks, and twigs. Grasses, bark, moss, fish bones, and other material get included in these large nests that ospreys will reuse year after year. Osprey nests have been measured at more than seven feet across and over five feet deep.

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