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  • Sara Thompson

Ospreys Outstanding in the Skies

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Ospreys on top of a nest on a lake
Ospreys renovating their nest at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, Virginia, USA; Image by Virginia State Parks.

Ospreys are one of the most widespread birds of prey. They are found in every continent except Antarctica. Feeding almost exclusively on fish, ospreys nest and inhabit areas with waterways large enough to sustain them. Being exclusive fisherman osprey have many adaptations that help them with catching their prey as well as behaviors that help them to live and thrive as well.

Like all birds, osprey have wings and feathers that give them the ability to fly. They also have incredible eyesight. An osprey can see a fish under the water while it is nearly 100 ft in the air! Then the osprey will dive feet first into the water to catch its prey. Some dives will submerge the bird completely under the water, but a special coating of oils help prevent the wings from getting too waterlogged and the osprey can fly back out and eat their catch while drying out. One of the unique adaptations osprey have for catching fish is having a reversible outer toe on each foot. This toe can face forward or backward and helps to increase grip on fish when in the backwards position. They also have backwards-facing scales on their toes that act as hooks for helping to hold onto their slippery prey.

Most ospreys will return to their same nesting site each year to raise their young, and most osprey pairs are monogamous and will mate for life. During the breeding season, the male osprey arrives to the nesting site first to chase off any rivals or dangers. When the female arrives they will both update and repair the nest for this year’s clutch of eggs. An osprey will lay between 2-4 eggs a few days apart and the eggs will hatch in this order after incubation. The female will do most of the incubating relying on her partner to either bring her food or to incubate while she hunts. When the eggs hatch the female will protect and care for the hatchlings while the male will do the hunting for everyone. About six weeks after hatching, both parents will begin hunting again, and teaching the young ones how to feed themselves.

After only eight weeks from hatching, young osprey will be much bigger and strong, with fully developed feathers. At this time, they will begin learning how to fly and hunt from their parents, so they will be able to fend for themselves during the winter migration. Even though most osprey will winter apart, most pairs will meet again at the same nesting site each year to raise another clutch of eggs.

In last week’s Explorit article, we mistakenly mentioned partnering with UC Davis Art Fusion. Please disregard as we were partnered with UC Davis Art/Science Fusion. We apologize for the typo and any confusion it may have caused.


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