Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
Tamarac Fact Sheet
What’s in a name?
Pandion haliaetus the scientific name.
Other names: American osprey, fish eagle, fish hawk, fishing eagle, sea hawk
Name origin: The word osprey is thought to have come into the English language from Old French (ospreit), which comes from Latin
(avis praedae = bird of prey).
What do they look like?
This large bird of prey is basically dark on top and white underneath. It has a white head with a dark stripe running from its deeply hooked black beak, around its yellow eyes, and along the side of its head. There is also a small dark cap on top of the head. The female may have a “necklace” of dark speckles and, like most raptors, is larger in size than the male. The osprey has pale, bumpy feet with four toes equipped with long, curved, black talons. One outer toe can face forward or backward. An average wingspan of two feet is common, but can be up to six feet!
Where can you find them?
They are found near water. They will usually nest near the top of large trees and on cliffs but will nest on artificial structures such as power poles, channel markers, or special “Osprey platforms.”
Where do they go during winter?
Osprey are strong fliers capable of crossing large areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert. They don’t build up large fat reserves, but instead hunt along the way. North American birds winter in Florida, the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, and even South America.
Did you know that Osprey...
- Can snap their talons shut in 2/100 of a second!
- Shake water off themselves like dogs.. .in mid-air!
- Have a rotating outer toe that can grasp prey from the front
- Possess spicules (rough barbs) on their feet to grip
- Catch and eat live fish!
- Generally mate for life but sometimes “divorce” if mating
- Have females choose mates on the basis of real estate
(nest quality, size, and location)!
- Parents withhold food from fledglings to encourage them
to leave the nest!
- Can fly at speeds close to 80 MPH!
What do they eat?
Almost exclusively fish eaters, osprey are noted for their unique hunting style. They hunt by winging their way over a body of water about 60 feet in the air. When a fish is seen, osprey hover a few seconds, flap a few times, and plunge nearly straight into the water! A plummeting bird turns to a feet-first position before going in. This impact makes a big splash, and birds may momentarily disappear below the surface. After catching a fish the bird carries it in an aerodynamic, head first orientation.
What about nesting?
Osprey will take advantage of just about anything affording a view of the water to build their nests, including tall trees, cliffs, telephone poles, the sides of bridges, etc. The bulky nest is constructed of rough sticks. Building material may be added each season for decades, by successive pairs of birds, resulting in a structure-five or more feet in diameter and several feet thick. -
The female usually lays three eggs, which are incubated for five weeks. Osprey eggs are a creamy color with brownish-red spots. The female sits on the eggs most of the time, leaving only to fish, at which point the male will take over. After hatching, the male will do all the fishing for about six weeks to feed the hungry, growing chicks. After ten weeks, the young birds will have all their feathers and will begin to fledge.
The Osprey Introduction Project
The US Army Corps of Engineers in Saylorville Lake, Iowa, the Iowa DNR, and the Polk and Boone County Conservation Boards co-sponsored the Osprey Introduction Project. This is a four year program which began in 2000. The chicks collected in Minnesota and Wisconsin and are relocated by the Raptor Center in St. Paul, MN to suitable hack towers to imprint on the area until they can fly.
Each July four osprey chicks will be released at Jester Park camp area #4. The birds are checked by a vet, marked, and tagged before going up into the hack tower. Trained volunteers feed and care for the ospreys, carefully making sure the chicks don’t imprint on humans. After the young ospreys fledge, volunteers continue providing food at the hack tower until the raptors are fishing on their own.
The world has seen a decline in osprey populations due to the past use of DDT
pesticides and habitat loss. The Osprey Introduction Project is bringing these raptors back into Iowa. Introducing or “hacking” young osprey to a specific area allows them to imprint on their surroundings, which they will return to as breeding adults.