Found throughout Florida year-round, this impressive raptor is easily observed anywhere there is fresh water and abundant fish. With a diet comprised nearly exclusively of a fresh catch, it is estimated that osprey’s stunning ability to dive and capture live prey is upwards of 70% successful. For humans that would mean seven out of 10 casts would land you the big one on your next fishing trip.
Sometimes referred to as a “fish hawk” or “fish eagle,” this bird of prey is similar in coloration to a bald eagle with its dark brown above and white undersides. They do however have a noticeable dark stripe across their face and eye whereas a bald eagle has a completely white head. The wingspan of this impressive bird reaches up to six feet and they stand about 24 inches high, which is a bit smaller than a bald eagle. When viewed while flying, there is a distinctive “M” shape in their silhouette.
Outfitted with impressive talons and a double-jointed front toe that swings backward to form a pincer grip, they are easily able to pluck a fish from the water. At times they will submerge under the weight of the catch. As they quickly rise from or break the surface, scaly pads on the soles of their feet help them maintain solid grip of each wriggling catch. Notice the effort it takes to gain altitude and how they aspect the fish head forward to reduce wind drag before flying to a perch or nest to feed.
Osprey nests are large, built of sticks and found on both natural and manmade structures nearby suitable feeding sites. Males typically bring the nesting material and can be seen flying with large sticks to the preferred nesting location. At times you may even observe them breaking dead sticks from tree limbs for nesting material. Females arrange the sticks, mosses, and other debris into an open platform nest. Nests are used annually and added to as the years go by, reaching sizes large enough for a person to sit in.
Thankfully, ospreys have made a comeback following a sharp decline in their numbers back in the 1950-60s due to pesticides. With the ban on these chemicals in 1972, the birds’ eggshells once again were strong enough to allow chicks to hatch. Now considered an ecological success story in many regions, artificial nesting platforms have also aided in the recovery of this species.