The Osprey

provided by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist 

Four Keys for identification of the Osprey:
Size Smaller than a Bald eagle but larger than a Red-Shouldered Hawk
Color Pattern Brown feathers above and white below
Behavior – Often seen flying over water and diving feet first for a catch
Habitat – Around nearly any body of water, including saltmarshes, reservoirs and estuaries

The Osprey can certainly be considered one of the most seen and recognized birds of prey throughout the islands of Sanibel and Captiva. The conservation of the Osprey is quite a success story, due to them being endangered by the effects of pesticides such as DDT in the mid – 20th century. Once these pesticides were banned, Ospreys have made a remarkable comeback throughout North America.

Otherwise known as the Fish Hawk, the Osprey is piscivorous, which is a carnivorous animal that feeds primarily on fish. They are found near either fresh or saltwater, relying on high concentration of fish to feed on, but are most commonly found in salt water environments all along the coastlines of North America and around the world. They are very adaptable and feed on the common species in each region. Most often seen flying over the water, the Osprey plunges into the water feet first with its large sharp talons to catch a fish. If the attempt is successful, it lumbers out of the water with its catch and takes flight. In order to better fly, it actually adjusts the fish to travel head first to reduce the drag of the catch.

Ospreys nest on top of large trees and especially like the spot if the top of the tree is broken or dead. In many cases, Ospreys in our area have been given a helping hand by having nesting platforms provided for them. These platforms are often erected in areas where nests may have failed in nearly tall trees and are very successful at many golf courses, parks and along area roadways. The nest, which is built by both the male and female, is a bulky pile of sticks, lined with smaller softer materials. The pair may use the same nest for years, adding more material each year until the nest becomes huge. In some cases, the size of the Osprey nest can be close to that of the Bald Eagle.

Ospreys have one brood per year. The female Osprey stays in the nest with the young while the male brings her fish to feed to the young. The male really has his fishing skills tested, making several trips to the nest each day with a catch. His successful trips are made easier due to several adaptations that allow the Osprey to become such a great fisherman.

Reversible outer toes
Sharp spicules on the underside of the toes
Closable nostrils to keep out water during dives
Backwards facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to better hold the catch
Dense oily plumage which prevents it’s feathers from getting waterlogged

The successful recovery of the Osprey has been noted worldwide. This fish eating bird of prey is a favorite of the islands and one that can surely be seen year – round. Look high in the sky for the nesting, eating, perched or diving Osprey. They are a great site to see anytime and a favorite of expert birders and novices alike.

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