Jeff Green | Jul 16, 2009
Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - July 16, 2009 Ospreys: Fish Hawks of the Land O’Lakesby Steve Blight
Splash! Last weekend my wife and I were out on Bobs Lake checking out our favourite swimming spots and my attention was caught by a loud splash coming from behind my left shoulder. I turned around just in time to see an Osprey struggling to leave the surface of the lake with a good-sized fish in its talons. Good luck for the Osprey and its hungry chicks; not such good luck for the fish.
The sight of an Osprey is a regular and increasingly common occurrence on our lakes. About 20 years ago when my wife and I first starting coming to Bobs Lake the sighting of an Osprey would be a cause to celebrate. Now there is hardly a weekend that goes by in summer when we don’t see several Ospreys, and this perception is backed up with scientific data. Osprey populations declined sharply throughout North America during the DDT era from the 1940s to the 1970s, but have since made a spectacular recovery. The lakes in our area host significant numbers of these birds and their numbers continue to grow.
Ospreys are medium-to-large (1.6 kilogram, 1.6 meter wingspan) black and white birds of prey that subsist entirely on fish, which they capture by diving from the air. They hit the water with a resounding splash and occasionally disappear below the surface before they emerge with a few strong wing flaps, shake off the excess water from their bodies and take off. If they are lucky they will have a fish in their talons – in our area often a rock bass, sunfish or some other pan fish.
This bird is best recognized by its mostly white head with a brownish black streak running from its sharply hooked bill through the eye to the back of the head. The rest of the bird is primarily black on the back and upper side of the wings and white on its front. The only bird it could reasonably be confused with is the Bald Eagle, but this is a much larger, mostly black bird with a completely white head and tail on adults and much less white in juvenile plumage.
Mid-April is when we can expect to see Ospreys return to lakes in our area from their summering ranges in the southern United States and areas further south. They build bulky stick nests, usually in isolated trees or increasingly on artificial nesting platforms or other manmade structures, and almost always near water. Preferred hunting habitat is shallow, clear water that permits them to see their fishy prey. Nests are frequently used year after year, with new sticks added every year. There are generally from 2-4 eggs laid in late May or early June that are incubated mainly or solely by the female. The young usually fledge by mid- August, and they are all gone to warmer climates by mid-October.
While they prefer lakes and rivers that are uninhabited by people, Ospreys appear to tolerate some human presence. On our lake, we make it a habit to slow down and steer well away from active nests when we are out in our boat. In some instances Ospreys may even benefit from some human activities. I have noticed Ospreys loitering near where people are fishing – appearing to be taking advantage of the easy pickings offered by recovering or crippled fish released back into the lake.
Another summer is here, and with it plenty of opportunities to admire the unique fishing skills of Ospreys – “fish hawks” of the Land O’ Lakes.