I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.
Coriolanus Act 4 Scene 5
The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica. Its breasts and belly are mostly white with some dark speckling; the female tends to have more of these darker feathers. The adult male is also slimmer and has narrower wings. White extends into the wings creating a mottled effect; the back is brownish black. The head has a distinctive white crest. Its face is bisected by a dark eye-stripe; and, check out those glowing yellow eyes checking you out. Its sharp hooked beak, while more slender than the eagle’s, gets the job done very well. When aloft the wings appear fairly white from below and are relatively long (50-71inches) with a bent wrist. Wing beats are slow and heavy, interspersed with glides giving the flight pattern an identifiable bounce.
Where the Osprey really shows its individuality are its uniquely adapted talons. The foot pad is rough and the toes can be held with three forward and one back or with two forward and two back. No other raptor has these characteristics which enable the osprey to catch and hold onto the slippery fish that are its main diet. Also aiding food sourcing are long legs, closable nostrils that keep out water during dives and dense, oily plumage to repel water.
The Osprey’s habitat is near bodies of water such as rivers, estuaries, salt marshes, and lakes where it can find fish in the 5-16 inch range. Prey is sighted about 30-130 feet above water. It hovers over its target and then plunges feet first capturing its fish. It has a good success record– usually scoring one in four attempts. The fish is held head first for the ride home (better aerodynamics!). Osprey will eat small mammals, reptiles and carcasses if no fish are available.
Osprey form pair bonds, usually mating for life. The male performs a vigorous sky dance as part of the mating ritual and then provides most of the heavy nest material—branches, twigs, sticks. The nest is lined with smaller twigs, bark, moss and grasses with the female putting in the finishing touches and rearranging things. Pairs use the same nest year after year, adding new material each year. Nests have been known to grow to seven feet wide and five feet deep and be used for as many as seventy years.
Typically, there are three eggs with both members of the clutch incubating the eggs for 38-43 days. They hatch over a period of days, establishing a pecking order that kicks in when food is scarce. The female stays with the hatchlings; the male brings home the ‘menhaden’ until the chicks can be left alone. Some studies report fledging time 44-59 days, others 8-10 weeks. In North America, great horned owls, bald eagles, and golden eagles are the only predators of osprey and their eggs where nests are built safely in tall trees or man-made platforms. Life span is typically 7-10 years, but some can survive for 20 years or more.
The formidable appearing Osprey has a high-pitched voice with a chirping song that can rise in intensity when threatened.
Osprey numbers were perilously low in the 1950-60’s due to shell-thinning and poisoning from pesticides. After DTT was banned in 1972, the population has continued to increase, especially throughout the eastern U.S. The proliferation of artificial nesting sites has also helped their comeback.
A majority of North American Osprey winter south of the U.S border, but here in the Carolina Lowlands we often see them all year. A pair has taken up residence near the green of Hole 3 on Ocean Winds, and nesting pair on Mallard Lake and another has been nesting on the vacant corner lot at SIR and The Haulover. The latter two often bring their sushi to the pine trees in our yard. Let us know if you have seen any other Osprey nests on Seabrook Island!
Article Submitted by: Donna Lawrence
Photographs by: Ed Konrad & Charles Moore