By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
When one mentions raptors, there are a few species that people are very familiar with like owls, eagles and hawks. The osprey, however, isn’t a familiar species to most people even though it is one of the most widespread raptors in the world. They are found on every continent except Antarctica.
Like all raptors, the osprey is a large bird with a hooked beak and sharp talons, both of which are used to catch their prey and tear it apart to eat.
About 99% of the osprey’s diet is made up of fish so it only makes sense that they nest near water along the coasts and large lakes. Occasionally they can be seen along rivers. They build their nests at the tops of dead trees, buoys, chimneys, and even atop power poles. Like the bald eagle, they use the same nest year after year but can be seen making minor repairs each spring.
They are amazing to watch as they glide over water looking for a fish. Sometimes they plunge so forcefully into the water that they are totally submerged. After catching a fish, they arrange the fish so it faces upright with the head forward.
The osprey is a great fisherman, successfully catching a fish one out of 4 tries. They have a much higher success rate than it’s relatives like the eagle. Sometimes eagles watch and when an osprey catches a fish, the eagle will attack the osprey causing it to drop the fish. Easy meal for the eagle! Benjamin Franklin said in 1784 that “bald eagles are too lazy to fish for himself…….and does not get his living honestly.” True then, true today.
Ospreys generally mate for life but they will find a new partner should their partner die or disappear during spring migration.
If you’d like to watch an osprey nest, there are many online. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has an osprey cam that you can watch here: http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/ospreycam/. In the New Jersey area, nest building begins in early April and eggs are laid from mid-April to early May. You can watch the eggs hatch and observe Mom and Dad caring for the babies. It’s interesting and educational.