OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
The Osprey is a large bird of prey, around 60 cm (two feet) long, and its diet is almost exclusively made of fish. It therefore is found near bodies of water. It is distributed widely around the world except Australia and New Zealand. The top parts are generally brown and the under parts white. There is a dark brown patch around the yellow eyes. The bill is black, the feet white but the talons are black. Sexes are similar, but females are slightly larger.
The osprey has the unique ability (with the owls) to reverse one of their front toes behind, enabling them a better grasp at their prey – slippery fish. It dives feet first to catch fish near the water surface, and has oily feathers to prevent them from becoming wet.
Author Ernest Choate (The Dictionary of American Bird Names) provides a long explanation for the complicated origin of the English name of this predator, which means ‘bone breaker’ (‘os’ = bone, and ‘frangere’ = to break). As for the Latin name ‘Pandion’, it comes from Greek mythology and refers to a species of hawk, and Choate describes at length the origin of the bird’s name. Finally, the name ‘halietus’ comes from the ancient Greek and does refer to an ‘osprey’, or ‘sea eagle’.
This bird builds a large nest on top of a high tree or will use human-built structures, such as the top of an electric pole. Because they use the same nest of branches year after year, the nest sometimes will collapse under its own weight, or from broken branches supporting it. To help with this potential problem, poles are installed with a platform to entice the osprey to use it as a nest.
The risks to ospreys when they nest on top of electric poles is electrocution, and for humans, power outages. Therefore some electric utilities will use their equipment to help move an osprey nest from an electric pole to a more suitable location. The osprey usually does not stay in PEI in the winter, due to its source of food being covered with ice.
The nests below from different locations on the island are made on a platform that sits on top of a pole, a structure easy to build and that meets the needs of the bird. Those nests all show a human origin to some of the materials used by the osprey to build the nest, aside from the usual branches and twigs and other natural materials. One can see parts of plastic garbage bags, electrical wires, one with a plug hanging down, and part of Christmas lights on one nest, fish netting on another, and some strapping on another nest.
What else in the same category did those birds bring into their nests? There have been instances of osprey young tangled in fishing line in their own nests. In any case, as photo contributor Marie Smith noted, those ospreys are recycling in their own ways.
Conservation: osprey numbers appear stable overall, now that it is a protected species. They used to be hunted as many other birds of prey, and their eggs were harvested as well. The DDT pesticide was banned in the 1970s in part because it was softening the shells of birds of prey such as the osprey. Some current risks include plastic garbage such as plastic rings for beverages in aluminum cans, which can smother the birds. It is recommended, when disposing of those rings, to cut them first to prevent this.
More information on the osprey can be found here.
Finally, the osprey is the official bird of Nova Scotia.
This video below shows an osprey calling from its nest. Taken at Robinson’s Island, PEI National Park.