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Ospreys, Magnificent Birds of Prey.

Posted by Greg on January 11, 2012

Osprey with fish. Photo by Terry Ross (Wikimedia Commons)

When Jody and I go to the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, Florida I’m always on the lookout for ospreys. I have long been interested in birds of prey.  According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “One of the largest birds of prey in North America, the Osprey eats almost exclusively fish. It is one of the most widespread birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica.”

Osprey at Morro Bay, California. Photo by Mike Baird (Wikimedia Commons)

An osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is fairly easy to identify, especially when flying, because of its gull-like crooked wing shape. It has a bright white breast and belly with the white extending out on the underside of the wings, mixing to white and dark at the ends of the wings and on the tail. The back is black or dark brown. The osprey has a white head and a distinctive dark mask across its eyes. This large raptor has a body length ranging from 21 to 26 inches and a wingspread that can measure almost 6 feet.  According to  the United States Geological Survey, “One species makes up the family Pandionidae and that is the osprey. It is a specialized fish-catching hawk and has a number of anatomical distinctions indicating it has pursued its own evolutionary course. For these reasons, it has been placed in a separate family from the hawks and eagles.”

We first learned about ospreys on Sanibel Island, Florida because of the area’s local efforts to bring them back in larger numbers. We spotted osprey nest stands on power poles as well as freestanding nesting platforms.  The osprey population drastically declined in numbers in the 1970s as a result of pesticide use, and it is now protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

We’ll certainly be on the lookout for ospreys in other coastal areas. These magnificent birds of prey can also be found in forested habitats near rivers and lakes.

Happy birdwatching!

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