Osprey

Osprey

©Darlene B. Durham 2014

 

TGO Nature Center, Educational Series, Osprey, Bird, Nature

Osprey

 

We are fortunate to have beautiful ospreys at TGO.  They can be seen soaring in the skies over TGO especially above our lakes as they hunt for fish.  They can also be seen at the Blue Heron Wetlands and around Titusville.  Although ospreys are smaller than a bald eagle, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle.  With a little study of each bird, you will be able to distinguish some of the unique characteristics of each of these two majestic birds.

The osprey is a bird of prey and is a species of raptors.  A raptor hunts and feeds on other animals.  The term is derived from the Latin term “rapere” which mean to seize or take by force.

The osprey is a large bird which can grow to as much as two feet in length with a wingspan of six feet.  Ospreys have a brownish upper body and a white head and underside.  The distinguishing feature of an osprey that we look for when trying to determine if we are looking at an osprey or bald eagle as it flies overhead is the black line across the osprey’s eye which extends to its wings.  It looks almost like an eye mask.  (Click on the photos at the top or bottom of this page to enlarge it and see a closer look of the eye markings).

Ospreys are sometimes referred to as fish hawks since their primary diet consists of fish.  They hunt for fish by flying high over water then diving feet first to catch fish with their talons.  They will often submerge themselves totally underwater to make their catch.  Some of the fish species they prefer include sunfish, crappie, spotted trout, mullet, shad, and scatfish.

Ospreys have a unique feature which no other raptor possesses.  Its outer fourth toe is reversible.  This allows the osprey to grip prey with two toes in front and two behind.   They also have spines on their feet which are also used to grip their prey, especially while flying.  We have seen ospreys fly with a fish in their talons.  They face the fish forward to make a more aerodynamic flight while holding their slippery prey.

Generally, ospreys mate for life.  Females are attracted to males who build the best nest so nest building is an important skill for a male to ensure he attracts a mate.  During the courtship phase of their relationship, the male osprey will bring the female food to keep her from mating with another male.

In Florida, ospreys can be found nesting any time of year; however, in Central Florida, ospreys usually begin the breeding process in February or March continuing into May or June.  Ospreys choose tall nesting sites which are not easily accessible to predators such as raccoons.  They can be found nesting in tall trees, usually a tree that is taller than the surrounding trees.  However, more ospreys are choosing tall man-made structures over trees – possibly from the loss of trees to development of land.  Osprey nests can be found on power poles, channel markers, television antennas, radio towers, bridges and nest platforms.

Ospreys prefer a nesting site which is close to water for easy access to their primary food – fish.  But I have also seen nests away from water.  In fact, today, I saw two nests on the tops of light poles on a ball field off of Hopkins with no visible water source.  There is an osprey nest at TGO located on the utility pole close to the entrance road to the maintenance buildings/recycle area.  The nesting site meets the ospreys’ preferred nesting criteria as it is in a high location and close to Lake Judy where there is an abundance of fish.  (See the last photo on this page for a view of the nest.)

An osprey nest is large and is constructed of sticks, grasses and sod.  Our nesting ospreys seem to also like moss for their nest.  Ospreys will reuse the same nest year after year.

The female osprey will lay two to four eggs per year.  Both parents tend to the eggs and young birds with the female being more attentive as the male hunts to provide food.  The incubation period is approximately 32 to 38 days and the eggs hatch three to five days apart.  This gives the first born an advantage over its younger siblings.  Since the parents tend to feed the strongest hatchling first, if there is a shortage of food, the younger hatchlings will starve.  The surviving young ospreys will fledge 49 to 59 days after being hatched.  These new ospreys will reach sexual maturity when they are approximately three years old.

The next time you see a large bird soaring in the skies over TGO, look for the black “eye mask” to determine if it is one of our beautiful ospreys.   As you pass the entrance to the maintenance buildings/recycle area, be sure to keep a watch the osprey nest.  It is May and I think I saw the back of a young bird in the nest a couple of days ago so the eggs may have hatched.   Let’s hope we have healthy new TGO residents!

 

TGO Nature Center, Osprey, Bird, Educational Series, Nature

Osprey

 

Osprey perched atop a pole.

 

TGO Nature Center, Educational Series, Bird, Osprey, Nature

Osprey On Nest

 

The osprey nest at TGO at the entrance road to the maintenance buildings/recycle area.

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

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