These birds are often called ‘fish hawks.’
When they fly, they have a distinctive kink in the wrist. This gives them an ‘M’ shape head on. From below, the darker wrist patch stands out from the lighter body and mottles wings and tail. They are mainly light underneath, contrasting with dark above. There is a dark line through the eye.
Females have a faint necklace mark of darker feathers.
The young have white-flecked backs rather than the adults’ solid dark browns.
Truly a cosmopolitan bird, you can see them almost anywhere you travel around the world. They are found on every continent. Where ever there are lakes, bays, rivers or streams, you will see them patrolling high above. It’s an awesome sight to see one of these large birds sailing overhead, then suddenly tuck its wings and plummet into the water, throwing its strong taloned feet forward at the last moment to strike. Soaking wet, they push down powerfully with their wings and rise from the water in a surge of spray, usually with a fish held intheir special non-skid spiny grip talons.
The adaptation of the non-skid talons helps them hold onto a variety of slimy, slippery fish that make up their diet. They also carry their prey head forward to reduce wind resistance.
They will defend their catch against other birds of prey like the bald eagle. It will scream its indignation and twist and turn in mid flight to lose its pursuer. From personal observation, osprey pairs will team up against a bald eagle. If one of the pair catches a fish and a bald eagle attempts to take it away, the other member of the osprey pair will attack the eagle. When it’s two on one, the eagle usually leave with out its meal.
Osprey will defend their nests against all comers and are formidable aggressors. They are known to often nest in isolated pairs, but also in colonies of up to 30 or 40 pairs sharing a large communal hunting location.
Their adaptation in nesting sites is amazing. Where once they only used tall snags for their large stick platform nests, now you will see them on power poles, channel markers, nesting platforms and abandoned bridge pilings. They have accepted man’s addition for their own needs. This has brought these beautiful birds into a new closeness with us, giving us a wonderful opportunity to observe their behaviors up close and personal. And has helped to insure their survival in our ever changing world.