Nature / USA

Gone Fishin’ … Osprey Style


Ospreys are one of my favorite birds on the Island. And while they aren’t particularly rare here, it’s unusual for one of these large raptors to sit calmly, 15 feet away, and allow me to snap repeated photos without taking wing.

I spotted this young osprey just off the bike trail adjacent to the airport. Moving to the far side of the trail so I wouldn’t disturb him, I rode by, and he didn’t move a feather. About 30 feet away, I slowly got off the bike, stealthily pulled out my camera, sneaked forward a few steps, and started snapping.

There are many reasons why ospreys are one of my favorites. First, I love to watch them dive for their dinner. Because fish is their primary food source, as you might expect, they are exceptional fish catchers. They’re the only raptor that hovers over water, and after a spectacular, feet-first dive, plunges into the water for the “catch of the day.” After totally submerging, and hopefully grabbing a fish, they surface, take off, and a few feet above the water, shake vigorously. And strangely, using their very sharp talons, the catch is then maneuvered so the head is pointing forward. Maybe, instead of a last meal, they’re giving the fish a last look, before they’re the meal.

Another characteristic that makes ospreys interesting is their nesting behavior. According to Peterson’s Bird Guide:

“John Steinbeck found 3 shirts, 1 bath towel, 1 arrow,
and his rake in a nest in his garden.”
–Peterson’s Bird Guide

Needless to say, the nests are large, messy affairs, making them easy to spot. They’re usually near water and located high on dead trees, utility poles, cell towers, billboards, channel markers … you get the idea. And finally, while ospreys are majestic birds, they can also screw up. In St. Augustine Beach, Florida, I saw an osprey drop a foot-long fish in someone’s back yard, and just fly into the sunset. What would you think if you strolled into your garden and found a large dead fish? I would love to have seen the homeowner’s reaction.

Happy Trails,

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