Our Neighbour the Osprey
The waterfront of Port Perry is hosting a new neighbour! A pair of Osprey has taken up residence directly cross the road from The Standard Newspaper’s offices. These magnificent birds inspire awe but often nest in odd places, such as the light standards in Palmer Park. A pair has nested for years at the ball fields, at the north of town, and others have and are nesting throughout our area. But one right in town! Wow! Their nest’s are familiar site’s in the Kawarthas, Uxbridge, Scugog and Brock. They are large and bulky and are made mostly of sticks, and are always built high on a pole, tall tree or other platform.
One of the wonderful success stories of our times followed on the heels of Rachel Carson’s exposé in the 1970s, whereby the devastating impacts of DDT on birds of prey were revealed.
Because of her research, today we can go out and see eagles, hawks and other birds of prey, including the Osprey. Incorrectly dubbed a “sea eagle” by some, it actually is in a family of its own and can be found worldwide (except for Antarctica). Ironically, throughout this vast range, there is only one species of Osprey, which is odd, as species generally become genetically divergent, by being remote from their peers and eventually new species emerge.
This is the only hawk in North America which hunts fish almost exclusively and actually dives into the water to get them. Occasionally, they take rodents, rabbits, hares, amphibians, other birds, and small reptiles to supplement their diet.
The Osprey is a big bird, but is surprisingly light-weight, weighing in at only between 1 to 2 kg. They are mostly white underneath and fly with a kink in their wings, such that they look different from other soaring raptors. Their narrow wings make them agile flyers and their long legs help them reach deep into the water to catch their prey. Their crested head and large yellow (adult) or orange (immature) eyes are startling to look at and awe inspiring at the same time. It can live to be 25 years old, but generally only survives 7 or 8 years in the wild, as Great Horned Owls and both Golden and Bald Eagles prey on them.
As they hunt, they soar slowly on their meter long wings over shallow water bodies, hover briefly when they spot a fish, then dive feet first at their prey. Once caught, the fish are repositioned so they face forward to reduce drag as the Osprey flies to a perch or its nest. Owls and Ospreys are the only raptors with an outer toe which can be turned backward, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind.
Sometimes, very large fish can be caught and the Osprey can’t lift off and must swim to shore! To assist with their aquatic life-style they have sharp spikes on the underside of the toes, nostrils which can be sealed when diving, backwards-facing scales on their talons to help hold fish, and an oily plumage to prevent feathers from getting waterlogged.
Generally, they mate for life, first breeding when 3 or 4 years old. The female lays two to four eggs and incubates them for 35–43 days. Near the nest, one often hears the adult’s sharp whistle, quite unlike what one would expect from a large bird of prey. Eight to 10 weeks after hatching the young are out flying on their own, but stick close to the parents for some time.
This is a great time to watch them, and, if you are lucky enough to be near a nest as we now are, watch the antics of the young’uns as they learn to hunt and fly. Spring isn’t so silent anymore at least in the Osprey’s world.
To help birds like the Osprey, please consider sponsoring me in this year’s Great Canadian Birdathon – you can help me make a difference. To make an online donation, go to my personalized Birdathon link, at https://www.canadahelps.org/me/6Ktyncn, or contact me by email, at email@example.com.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on LinkedIn and Facebook.