Osprey

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Photo by: Patrick Connolly

Species: Osprey

Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus

Status: common

Description: The osprey is Ontario’s fishing hawk. Adults are dark brown on their back, with white forehead, cheeks, neck, breast and belly. Their facial markings include a dark stripe that runs from their beak across their eyes to the back. The wings, tail body underparts are streaked brown, with females having heavier stripping than males. As with all raptors, females are larger than males. This bird is a fishing bird and has many cool adaptations that allow it to hold onto fish including very hooked talons, and spikes on their feet (called spicules). This bird also has four equal toes, with two pointing forward and two backwards when they have prey held in their feet. This bird call is a whistling “chook, chook, chook”.

Habitat: This bird is always found by water, as it is a fishing hawk. It can be found along shorelines of large lakes and rivers, ponds, and reservoirs. Osprey do migrate, spending the winter months in the wintering sites in Latin America and South America.

Breeding: Osprey build stick nests at the top of broken spruce or pine trees. If these types of trees aren’t an option, they may nest on the ground (on large rocks in a stream so that terrestrial predators can’t reach), power pylons, chimneys, hunters blinds and artificial platforms (put up to encourage osprey nesting by wildlife managers). Nests are built early in the nesting season but construction can continue throughout the season. This bird will return to the same nest every year, and will repair the nest from the previous year late in the summer. The nest is place in a tree near water and is composed of sticks, rope, strips of clothing, and even plastic. New nests are 30-60 cm deep, but the depth increases over the years the nest is used.  The same male and female will breed every year (monogamous). The female will lay 1-4 eggs and the female will incubate the eggs until they hatch (36-42 days after hatching). After the eggs hatch, the male is the sole provider of food for the family. After approximately 2 months, the chicks can fly. Studies suggest that 50% of young osprey die in their first year.

Diet: This bird eats fish, and lots of it. They will look for shallow fish, and will dive to get them. They will then face the fish, head first, in the direction they are flying (more aerodynamic) and hold it with both feet. They have also been seen eating birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats and salamanders, although this is rare.

Threats to species:  Osprey populations crashed in the 1950s and 60s due to pesticides. Since the ban on DDT (pesticide) their populations have rebounded significantly. Habitat destruction is still a threat to this bird as they prefer old, large trees for their nests.Another threat is human pollution, specifically litter, as this bird will use twine and string in its nests, which may get wrapped in their feet or in the feet of the hatchlings preventing them from leaving the nest and hunting properly.

Threat to humans: This bird is no threat to humans. If you are lucky enough to see one, marvel in its amazement and beauty.

Fun facts:

Osprey nests can get deep enough to fit a person.

The eggs of osprey don’t hatch at the same time, and siblicide (sibling killing sibling) can occur with the latest hatched young starving to death.

This bird can live 15-20 years, with the oldest known individual living to 35.

The Osprey doesn’t reach sexual maturity until 3 years of age.

The Osprey is a bioindicator-used to assess the state of the environment.

Sources:

Hinterland Who’s Who- http://www.hww.ca/en/species/birds/osprey.html

The Cornell lab of Ornithology- http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/osprey/lifehistory

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