Osprey

FAMILY PANDIONIDAE
OSPREY
PANDION HALIAETUS
















Ospreys are large, eaglelike hawks nesting from Alaska and Newfoundland south along the coasts. They are widespread in the Northern Hemisphere and in Australia.Ospreys are 21-24 inches from bill to tail, and standing height is 1-1/2 feet. Wing span is from 4-1/2 to 6 feet. Male and female are closer in size than other hawks.They weigh about 2-4 pounds.

DESCRIPTION
Plumage is dark on the back, and white on the undersides. The head is largely white, with a black patch across each cheek. A
conspicuous crook in the wings and black “wrist” marks—visible from below—are good field identifiers. Call is a series of loud
rather high-pitched whistles, sounding like “cheeep, cheeep.” The sexes are similar in plumage, but females are somewhat larger.
Immatures are similar to adults but the back has a “scaly” look because of white feather edges.




HABITAT
Ospreys inhabit seacoasts and areas near large rivers and lakes. In West Virginia, the show up along rivers, and creeks, and around wetlands such as Canaan Valley. Ospreys are often seen during late summer and during fall migration.

NEST
Ospreys build bulky nests of sticks and twigs, lined with grasses and bark. Sometimes they add cans, bits of rope and
fishnet, shells, and other items. The prominent nests are placed in trees; on manmade structures, including poles, buoys, billboards, and chimneys; and on the ground. Nests are used year after year and can become large.



EGGS
2-4, usually 3; white or pinkish white with brown blotches.



INCUBATION
The female incubates 32 days, and young leave the nest when they are 51-59 days old.




FEEDING HABITS
Ospreys primarily eat fish, including carp, pike, perch, and trout, but like an occasional turtle, bird, or small mammal. Waterways must be able to produce enough fish to support osprey populations.

NATURAL HISTORY
Ospreys hover 50-150 feet high, then plunge to the water with a great splash for their fish prey, sometimes going under the water.

Ospreys carry the captured fish head first.
The osprey’s foot has spicules on its toes for gripping slippery fish and reversible inner toes for carrying prey. The birds are able to take off from the water’s surface after a dive, shaking themselves to remove water. Sometimes the birds swoop down and drag their feet through the water, perhaps to clean them. The male performs courtship flights, usually while carrying a fish and
calling constantly. When the young are in the nest, for about 2 months, the male brings fish to the female who tears the fish and feeds the young. Lifespan is 20 years.

STATUS
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ Nongame Wildlife Program has released osprey in several places to try to establish breeding populations in the state. The birds are banded for identification, and then placed in a “hack box.” “Hacking” is a falconer’s term for teaching young birds of prey to hunt. The hack boxes are large, open-fronted plywood boxes with raccoon guards. The young birds are fed a pound of fish per day through food tubes in the back of the boxes.




Food tubes are used so young birds do not associate food with humans. About midsummer, the young ospreys are able to
fly; by late August or September, they will migrate to Central and South America, where they remain 2 to 3 years until mature.
The birds then migrate back north to areas where they learned to fly to find mates and begin nesting. Osprey have been released at various sites in the state, including Blennerhassett Island in
the Ohio River, South Branch of the Potomac, and Tygart Lake Dam. The osprey has not been a common nesting bird in the state, probably due to lack of extensive wetlands. Several nesting sites
have been confirmed in the Eastern Panhandle.