There is a listserv named Texbirds that anyone can sign up to receive if you happen to be interested in keeping up with bird sightings around the state of Texas. Recently there have been several posts regarding Osprey sightings around the state and some commentary about these sightings. This species primarily breeds along the east coast, the far northern states and all across Canada and Alaska, northern California and the northwest coastal states and the Rocky Mountains. In winter months, Ospreys are a common sighting all along the Texas coast but not so much this time of year and thus the commentary on these sightings.
You don’t have to go very far east of here to be where Ospreys live year round, however. They breed along the Mississippi and Red River corridors in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast of LA. They are year round residents in these locations. There are records of breeding pairs in far southeast Texas with sightings increasing all the time. So if birders don’t spot Osprey in Texas on nests, what are the birds they are seeing? They are probably non-breeding birds that are just hanging out.
Ospreys are an interesting raptor for multiple reasons. They are the only North American raptor that eats primarily live fish. In fact, 99% of their diet is made up of fish. You may say but what about the Bald Eagle? They also eat fish, both live and dead but will also eat mammals, reptiles, amphibians and crabs. Osprey are also the only raptor that has one reversible toe so they can clutch their catch with two toes going forward and two backward on each foot. This enables them to line the fish up parallel to their body making for a streamlined flight profile. It is really cool seeing them fly down Buffalo Camp Bayou here at GCBO with a fish lined up and headed into the wind.
Ospreys dive feet first for their prey, accessing only about the top 3 feet of water, so they are restricted to surface-schooling fish and to those in shallows—the latter generally most abundant and available. North America’s Ospreys tend to breed most densely where shallow waters abound.
They are a very striking bird with a white crown, white throat, breast and belly. There is a dark stripe that runs through their eye and the bird’s iris is yellow. The remainder of the plumage is brown. The wing span is 5-6 feet so it is a big bird in flight and just a little smaller than the Bald Eagle. The birds are usually monogamous at each breeding season but there is not any data regarding mating for life. However, banded adults have been documented returning to the same nest sight if a brood was successfully fledged the previous year. A typical clutch size is 2-4 eggs with the mean being 3.6. The eggs will hatch over a period of several days so the first bird to hatch has a size advantage over the remaining hatchlings. The success of hatchlings to fledging, as with essentially all birds, is highly dependent on food availability. The more readily abundant and easy to procure food is, the higher the number of birds that fledge.