By Lynnette Brooks
Along the Gulf Coast we frequently have the opportunity to see Osprey, large fish eating raptors, along all our open waterways. Also called a sea hawk, fish hawk, and fish eagle, the Osprey is predominately brown on the back and wings, and grey to white on the head and breast, with a broad brown stripe running from shoulder to eyes. While some of our Osprey appear to be year-round residents, we do see an influx of “tourist” birds during both the spring and fall migration. According to Cornell University’s website, there are several things about the Osprey that make it unique. What I find most fascinating is the presence of a reversible toe on each foot and a barbed pad. As the primary food source for Osprey is fish, the availability of a rough pad to prevent slippage and the ability to control a toe while catching and flying with a fish “in hand” has to be useful. I expect these two adaptations also increase the probability of a successful fishing trip. Over the years, I have had the honor of seeing several different Osprey search, catch and fly with a fish clamped tightly, and it is an impressive sight. The captured fish is always faced forward to reduce drag during flight; yet another use for the barbed pad and reversible toe!
These birds seem to walk on the water when they strike. Taking a minimum of three-steps in all, the bird will snag a fish, then take at least a couple additional steps while using its powerful wings to lift itself and its meal up and away.
We have been privileged over the last 20 or so years to see many different types of birds in our yard and neighborhood. Usually, during one migration period or the other, we will have something unexpected show for our entertainment. Until last fall those birds have all been relatively small. When an adult Osprey landed at the top of our neighbor’s tree, the average size of birds in this area rose significantly. With lunch firmly in its grasp, the visiting Osprey chose a large bald snag as a perch, and began to announce its presence. There is nothing small about an Osprey, not even its voice.
Osprey have distinct vocalization skills and our visitor went through several different verses before settling down to eat. This was the first Osprey anyone could remember seeing in the area. Our neighborhood is ruled by at least two pair of Hawks, pushy mockingbirds and bossy crows yet none were in attendance while the Osprey ate its lunch.
Spring Migration will begin soon and I can hardly wait to see which type of bird will visit this year. Will it be an old friend or an unfamiliar tourist? Will our visitor be an expected species, or an exotic blown in by some unexpected weather event? Whichever it happens to be, we will keep binoculars handy at both the front and back doors. Happy Birding to all.