Almost every time we are out on Lake O' the Pines, we will see at least one Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and until this past year I couldn't tell you much about them. They are truly beautiful raptors in a distinct kind of way; I love to see them hovering over the water with head down, wings beating fiercely, hunting for that next meal. Others must realize their important place in our ecosystem, because the Corps of Engineers has sponsored a project to erect several platforms at different areas of the lake, in hopes that they will be used by Ospreys to nest on.
This project seemed counterintuitive to me at first, because as you see in the photo the platforms look cold and utilitarian and nothing like a tree! However, one of the first things I learned while doing some research on the Osprey on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site is that "they readily build nests on manmade structures, such as telephone poles, channel markers, duck blinds, and nest platforms designed especially for it." These platforms have become important tools in reestablishing Ospreys in areas where they have disappeared, so I am encouraged to see them and to understand the effort behind them. We will definitely be watching them for signs of activity!
Fun facts about the Osprey that I find interesting: they are unique among North American raptors for their diet almost exclusively of live fish, and the ability to dive into the water to catch them. They are resident to long-distance migrants, their numbers have rebounded since the banning of the pesticide DDT, and they can log more than 160,000 migration miles during their 15 - 20 year lifespan! They possess a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind, which other hawks do not have, and barbed pads on the soles of the feet help them hang on to slippery fish. When flying with prey, they line up the catch head first for less wind resistence! And on the subject of "fishing", Ospreys are accomplished anglers, with success rates sometimes as high as 70 percent, and an average time hunting before making a catch of just 12 minutes. (They actually hover over the water and plunge feet-first for fish, whereas the Bald Eagle picks fish up from the surface.)
Other interesting tidbits are that Osprey eggs do not hatch all at once, with the first chick emerging as much as five days before the last one. The oldest hatchling can dominate the rations in times of scarcity, and younger ones may starve to death. As for habitat, Ospreys are drawn to shallow fishing grounds because they are unable to dive more than about three feet below the water's surface. We many times see them in shallow coves and sitting in the tops of dead trees along the shoreline, perched and watching for that next catch. In fact, the name "Osprey" first appeared around 1460, via the Medieval Latin phrase for "bird of prey" (avis prede).
So, the next time you are out on Lake O' the Pines, Caddo Lake, or any body of water where fish live, keep an eye to the sky for an Osprey! As they are primarily solitary birds by nature, you will probably only see one at time, and can recognize the adult Osprey by the white head with broad black mask, white breast, blackish above, and bright yellow eyes. I hope that I will have some photos to post as they find the platforms that have been erected for them on Lake O' the Pines, so watch for those!
I can't believe I missed commenting on your osprey blog, Kristi! Wonderful information about this bird of prey!! They might be smaller than an eagle, but they seem to be almost as fierce! I find it curious that in some places, like where my folks live on the coast of SC, the eagles are taking over the ospreys nests on the platforms that were built for the ospreys. It seems the eagle population is growing significantly, while the ospreys are less and less noticeable. I wonder if the expansion of the eagle population is a direct cause for the drop of ospreys there?