Posts Tagged ‘Osprey’

Ladders, Rain, and Talons Oh My…


Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Osprey Approaching the Nest © Josh Haas

Ladders, Rain, and Talons Oh My… by Josh Haas

When it comes to Osprey, they are one of the most unique birds out there.  Not only are they well-adapted for distinctive hunting, they are a bird in a family all their own.  Osprey are fish eating raptors that plunge completely into the water after prey.  The first time you see it, I guarantee you will think the bird is certainly going to drown until it miraculously pops out and flies off as if it never went in the water.

There is quite a program in Southeast Michigan attempting  to get the Osprey re-established in order to help the species along.  A very interesting byproduct of this successful program has been Osprey returning to the other side of the state where several pairs are making the Kalamazoo area their new breeding grounds.  In the past few years, there are several nests that have been successful, including one along the Kalamazoo River in the downtown area.  Amongst the city noise, hustle and bustle this adult pair has successfully reared young the past two years.  You might remember a previous post of mine about this very pair and how we prepared early for their return, erecting a new platform.  This paid off swimmingly as the birds not only returned, they hatched 3 young Osprey.  About a week and a half before they were expected to fledge, we moved in to check and band the birds.


Right: Osprey in Flight
Left: Josh with Young Osprey
© Josh Haas/Glances at Nature

Unfortunately for us, it was a stormy morning but as the storm clouds moved on, we stood the wet ladder up and one at a time, climbed to grab the birds and bring them down for physicals and banding.  Being on a slippery ladder with a bird sporting adult sized feet and talons was no fun task but with experience, it can be done methodically with no problems.  During the physical, we look for any kind of insects or signs of infections by looking at the birds vent, ears, mouth/throat, etc.  The birds weren’t weighed but their keels were checked to ensure they showed good signs of getting enough food.  All three birds were very healthy and meaty meaning the adults really knew what they were doing.  Once the birds were banded, we brought them back up to the nest as the adults continued to fly around squawking.  All in all, a successful morning.  A long week later, all three young fledged and began flying around with their parents.  I wonder what next year will bring!!!

It’s important to mention this banding event  was done by official licensed bird banders from the Kalamazoo Nature Center with the help of volunteers that had experience with large Raptors.  Never attempt to approach or band wild birds.  This is highly regulated and should only be done by experienced handlers and licensed banders.

To see more of Josh’s work, get tips on photography, or to sign up for workshops and trips please visit

Dive Right In – The Osprey


Monday, November 12th, 2012

Osprey © Jungle Pete Corradino

Dive Right In – The Osprey by Jungle Pete Corradino

What happens after we die has to be the most common question humans ask as a species. Which animal they’d like to be if they get reincarnated is a close second. Am I right? I think I’d prefer to be a flying fox, soaring the tropics in search of fruit. As long as I could avoid the natives who eat them in a bowl of milk. Or maybe a dolphin would be nice. You never see “dolphin heads sold here” signs and they spend their days eating, mating and resting half of their brain.

I certainly don’t want to be a fish. Venomous, spiny, speared; humans and animals will find a way to eat every species of fish no matter how large or small or well protected.

Every time I see an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) plunging in the water I think of the fish that has no chance. Ospreys are the only raptors that dive into the water and can do so from heights of up to 100 feet. They plunge feet and head first and mercilessly pluck their prey from their aquatic habitat with long, sharp talons and specialized spicules. These spiny toe pads are used to grip the slippery fish as they lift them from the water and carry it head first to a perch where they either eat them whole or rip them apart and devour them.


Osprey © Jungle Pete Corradino

The name Osprey comes from the Latin ossifragius meaning “bone breaker”. This is a misnomer considering the Ospreys, although ruthless and efficient hunters don’t break bones but rather rend their prey bit by bit. The species name “haliaetus” means “seahawk” and was named as such by the Swedish Taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. It was later recognized as the sole member of the family Pandionidae.

As proficient as the Osprey is at hunting, on rare occasions the bird will attempt to reel in something a bit bigger than they have the capacity for. Fishermen have reported finding clenched talons in captured fish. Apparently not all fish go down without a fight and some take the Osprey with them. I may need to rethink my consideration of reincarnation as an Osprey or just keep in mind that sometimes bigger isn’t better.

Hawk ID, Part 6: Osprey and Harriers


Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Hawk ID, Part 6: Osprey and Harriers

Osprey and Harriers

Osprey © Josh Haas

Osprey and Harriers aren’t closely related per say but I thought they’d at least go together for part 6 of our Hawk ID series.  Osprey are fish eating raptors that rely on water with adaptations that make them unique.  So unique, in fact, they are one species in their own family of Raptors all themselves.  When hunting fish, they plunge completely into the water in comparison to a Bald Eagle picking out fish with only their feet/legs.  Osprey have special oils that are similar to wax on a car.  When wet, the water just beads off allowing them to take flight easily after a plunge.  Their feet/talons are adapted to give them more grip on slippery fish.  When it comes to Northern Harriers, they are a diurnal hunter but have facial discs similar to our nocturnal friends, the Owls.  They hunt fields, marshes,  and wetlands spying out amphibians and small mammals.

Osprey and Harriers

Northern Harrier © Josh Haas

In terms of flight, the Osprey is a large bird that at a distance can actually resemble a Gull.  Their long, sometimes crooked wings can play tricks on you until the shape and flight is solidified in your mind.  They seem to flap a lot with a stiff wing beat and appear to bob  in the air.  This species of Raptor can be a tough one to count at shoreline count sites as the counter needs to determine whether the bird is a local simply hunting or a true migrant.  True migrants fly with a purpose and typically follow a line of flight.  Counters always have a point in the sky that birds must cross before officially being counted as well.  The Northern Harrier has a steady and direct course in flight throughout migration.  The wing beat is very regular and slower than many of the Buteos.  In a soar, the bird has a bold dihedral and sports a very long tail.  As Harriers get closer, one will notice a very distinct white rump patch but remember that many other Buteos and Accipiters can show a white rump in high winds so this should never be the only characteristic to ID the bird.

Osprey and Harriers are, well, special.  They both have very unique adaptations and flight that set them apart.  As with any Raptor ID, practice practice practice.  Get out there and go for it!

Hawk ID, Part 5: Eagles

Hawk ID, Part 4: Buteos by Josh Haas

Hawk ID, Part 3: Accipiters

Hawk ID, Part 2: Falcons

Hawk ID, Part 1: ID Techniques 101

The Heat is On – Osprey


Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

The Heat is On – Osprey by Josh Haas

The Midwest is really heating up this summer.  In some cases even seeing some record-breaking temperatures across the region.  It can be tough to deal with in our day to day especially when working outside, taking hikes, biking, etc. but it amazes me to see birds and other wildlife out continuing to march through their lives.

Our local Osprey mothers are using their bodies and wings to shade their young birds.  Fledgling Northern Cardinals are being fed in the shade but the parents continue to feed wherever the food is available in order to keep themselves and their young going.  Deer know to lay low in the shade throughout the day and feed at night.  This is their normal routine but they seem to be hitting the fields later in the evening lately.  All of this heat definitely makes many think more seriously about global warming but let’s not get into a political debate.  It’s important to realize that weather is historically very cyclical.  There are ups and downs but the heat, for the short term, will likely pass.  All of this heat is one more reason for planting native species.  In the Midwest, by planting flower species native to the region, many of them are built to withstand times of heat such as this.  For us, this includes plants like Brown Eyed Susans, Compass Plant, Joe Pye Weed, and Milkweeds (to name a few).  Many of our native species have root systems that take years to establish, but once established are extremely deep in the ground where the water is available, even in times of drought.

Osprey Birds

Osprey approaching nest © Josh Haas

For those of us who aren’t typically accustomed to all this heat, it’s important to follow a few simple things to stay safe and also still enjoy the outdoors.  Get up early and take advantage of the cooler mornings for work and play.  If there is a breeze, spending time in the shade will feel surprisingly comfortable.   The biggest help in keeping cool and safe through the heat is to drink plenty of water.  Staying hydrated is key!  This is also a great time to take night hikes, as the nights are warm enough to be very comfortable.  With school out, this is one more way of creating memories your family will never forget.



Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Osprey by Jack Ballard

While futilely attempting to tempt a trout from the Clark Fork River, I notice an osprey winging upstream with a foot-long fish secured in its talons. Why, on this lovely spring morning, can a bird catch a trout with its bare hands and I’m unable to get a bite with my several hundred dollars of fly equipment? As it turns out, when it comes to fishing tackle the bird is better equipped than the angler.

From the tips of their talons to the point of their beaks, ospreys are uniquely equipped for fishing. Their feathers are dense and oily, allowing them to shed water like water-dwelling birds such as ducks and geese. Compared to other raptors, their legs are long, which facilitates snatching fish from near the surface of a lake or stream without become completely submerged. However, unlike bald eagles whose fishing repertoire consists primarily of plucking fish from the surface of the water, ospreys may become fully submerged when diving feet-first in pursuit of a fish. When diving, valves on the nostrils of ospreys seal to prevent them from breathing water. The opposable third toe of an osprey aids them in grasping wriggling fish, as do tiny spines on the bottoms of their feet known as spicules.

A host of adaptations equip ospreys for fishing, but even so, successful predation per attempt ranges from 25 to 75%. The depth at which their prey is swimming and surface conditions affect osprey’s efficiency. Deeper dives in choppy water result in fewer fish. Individual ability also varies from bird to bird. Researchers have found that some ospreys routinely exhibit higher success rates per predation attempt than others. When transporting prey, ospreys learn quickly that it’s easier to fly with the snout of the fish forward and almost invariably orient their burden in this direction.

As the bird wings out of sight beyond a curtain of cottonwood trees, I’m a little jealous. Maybe a 25% catch rate is on the low end for an osprey. But it sure beats getting skunked.

Preparing for the Return


Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Osprey Nest Platform by Josh Haas

Last year, our local area was lucky enough to have an Osprey pair take residence atop a power pole along the Kalamazoo River. For those not familiar with the Kalamazoo River, in 2010 we had a major oil spill in the river that is obviously still grabbing attention all over the area. To have Osprey continue nesting along the river even after that horrible situation is pretty inspiring and can also attest to the clean-up efforts thus far.

Ospreys have definitely made their comeback along with Bald Eagles, but they tend to be a bit more picky when it comes to nesting. A few weeks back a friend of mine approached me to help him do some video work for an up-coming documentary he’s working on (When Hope Hatches, This documentary will tell the story of the Osprey pair and also bring awareness to viewers of the importance the Kalamazoo River plays on local ecosystems. A major step in the process of this film was to document the erection of a new platform as the old power pole was being taken down. This would be all about preparing for the return.

Osprey by Josh Haas

The process began with capturing the current pole being torn down. This had us a bit worried given the unknown of whether returning Osprey would use the new platform or not. Knowing the current pole had to come down, there was nowhere to go but forward. A couple hundred yards away was a prime location, however, for the new platform. Constructed of cedar, this platform would be roughly 15 feet high with an excellent view of the river and surrounding area. Partnering with the Kalamazoo Nature Center and local volunteers, the platform was pre-built which made erecting it much easier. Once in place, sticks were added and it would then be time to wait.

Osprey by Josh Haas

On April 4th, the wait was finally over as the cellular nest camera started sending photos that included Osprey on the platform. While it’s still early, we are all extremely excited about the outlook. Not only does it look like the Osprey may indeed use this platform, it looks good for the documentary to continue moving forward. I will continue to share blogs regarding how the Osprey are doing as well as links to view photos/videos throughout the season. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in donating to make the documentary happen, feel free to contact Matt Clysdale (

In the Year 2000 – The Osprey


Monday, February 6th, 2012

Osprey by Jungle Pete

By the year 2000 Ospreys and Bald Eagles will be extinct.

That is what my 3rd grade teacher told me in 1978. Chemicals were killing the birds including Brown Pelicans, Cormorants and other fishing eating birds. The year 2000 was a long time away and seemingly in a galaxy far, far away and yet for my eight year old, Star Wars-obsessed brain, the notion of extinction was real and saddening to me.

Brown Pelican - adult, breeding, Eastern © Arthur Morris/VIREO

My teacher had oversimplified the problem but I wouldn’t understand that until years later. In fact the ban on harmful chemicals, such as DDT, years earlier had begun the reversal of misfortunate that many of these birds had endured. DDT, an effective chemical pesticide used in the control of malaria-spreading mosquitoes was considered to be the culprit in the decline of many fish-eating bird populations. The chemical bioaccumulates in fatty tissues of animals as it works its way from the base of the food chain, from plant, to invertebrate, to fish, to bird. When the female birds would lay eggs, the DDT inhibited calcium deposition in eggshells resulting in thin eggs that were often crushed by the incubating adults.

After DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972, the chemical slowly worked its way out of the environment, including wildlife and humans and the affected bird populations began to recover.

Twelve years after my teacher’s apocalyptic prophecy, the sight of an Osprey taking flight over a body of water in Florida is relatively common. I routinely have the opportunity to watch Ospreys swoop down over the water and with spiculed-talons, grab a fish to eat. The spicules are sharp spines that impale their prey and make it easier for them to catch slippery fish. Nests are conspicuous accumulations of hefty sticks in trees, on utility poles or on human-made Osprey nesting platforms.

The population rebound for many of the species affected by DDT and other chemicals is very encouraging. Yet I would say to the children of today, the health of our ecosystems is still in jeopardy and unless we fix drainage issues, stop nutrient overloads and prevent further habitat loss, species such as the Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and Florida Panther will be extinct by 2030.

Aplomado Falcons and More on Port Isabel Road


Monday, December 27th, 2010

Just a few weeks ago, my friend Sally and I drove north on a dusty road in southeast Texas. The road was straight as an arrow, piercing the horizon as it sliced through remnants of sweeping coastal prairie.

Old Port Isabel Road’s claim to fame is its raptors, and our target was Aplomado Falcon. Aplomado Falcons are significant in the southwest because they were extirpated from the region long ago, and placed on the endangered species list in 1976. An intensive reintroduction program has put them back on the map, yet sightings and nesting activity are uncommon enough to remain special. I was eager to make up for last year’s dip on the bird during the last Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, so Sally and I accepted a local expert’s advice to drive up Old Port Isabel Road in search of the falcon.

The day wound up being a raptor-ous morning where, in the space of just a few hours, we’d see the Aplomado Falcon and eight other predatory species along this one lonesome but precious dirt road.

From Harlingen, we headed east toward the Gulf on Rt. 100 on our way to Old Port Isabel Road (that’s what locals call it, but Google Maps calls it Buena Vista Road). Not long before the turn, we spotted the chunky orange bill and white undertail of a Crested Caracara in flight. Fantastic bird, and a great warm up for the day ahead!

We hung left onto the dirt road and bam! We immediately saw not one, but TWO Aplomado Falcons perched in a bare-limbed tree. The birds seemed to be associating with a stick-built nest in the tree’s upper quadrant. Aplomado pairs remain together year round and hunt cooperatively. They typically nest from March to June, and do so by taking over the nests of other raptors or corvids. Whether or not this was their nest from earlier in the season, we couldn’t be sure.
The birds were tolerant of our presence, yet even so, we did not approach closely. I pointed my zoom lens out the window and snapped photos like mad. The birds were animated during the minutes we observed them—moving from branch to branch, making short flights, and flapping their wings. In the photo above, I captured one returning to its perch after a brief sojourn. Look at that tail spread! A band on the left leg of one of the birds shows that this bird was tagged as part of the restoration program.

Further up the road, we saw my first Harris’s Hawk, then a second, and a third. We watched as these chunky black hawks – probably members of cooperative hunting group – surveyed their territory from utility wires. The late morning sun glistened off their backs and rustled their red shoulder feathers.

An Osprey appeared soon after, along with two or three more. Then the white rump of a Northern Harrier appeared – the bird skirted close to the ground in search of prey then banked left and disappeared. A Red-shouldered Hawk made an appearance.



Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Location: Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, ID
Camera pushed up to my eye, I concentrated on the cormorant that floated near me as I kneeled at the end of a floating dock. Suddenly, a cannon ball hit the water 20 yards away from me. Startled, I looked up just in time to see an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) lift off the water. It missed, and so had I. I had missed the chance for an incredible photo, though I learned something about osprey. They plunge feet first after unsuspecting fish, the mainstay of their diet. Barbed pads on their feet help grip their slippery prey, which they fly back to the nest face first for better aerodynamics.
Back at the nest, osprey chicks vie aggressively for dinner, with the first hatchling typically eating the most. Often the youngest starve if the fish supply is finicky.
I’ve long held a fascination for osprey. Quite rare at the turn of the 20th century due to the widespread use of DDT, this water-raptor now commonly breeds across most of Canada, the northernmost areas of the Midwest and Northeast, and from the central Rockies across the Pacific Northwest. They willingly set up house on manmade platforms, telephone poles and other tower-like structures, then migrate south of the border when their food source freezes.
One of the largest raptors in North America, with up to a 24-inch body length and a wingspan up to 70 inches, oprey are sometimes called sea hawks or fish eagles, though they are decidedly not eagles. Mature osprey may have a white head, but their sharp yellow eyes are capped by a prominent dark eye stripe. The only way to tell the males from females is size (the females are bigger) and by a necklace of intermittent dark feathers on the female’s lower neck.