By Melissa Bajadek
Fish Hawk? Sea Hawk? Osprey? Whatever name you choose, this raptor is undeniably one of the most majestic birds of prey in our area. But have you noticed that our high perching neighbors are only part-time residents? In fact, ospreys in Maryland spend only part of the year mating and raising hatchlings before they abandon their nests and migrate south to warmer climates as cooler temperatures set in.
So, while the nests remain, the male and female pairs, who mate for life, depart for sunnier shores. But they don’t travel together! According to osprey expert Greg Kearns, a Naturalist at Patuxent River Park, “Even though they will come back to the same nest year after year, they don’t migrate together…the bird couples actually take ‘separate vacations’”. Kearns, who has banded thousands of ospreys over his almost four-decade career says, “While most of the ospreys in our region migrate to southern states, including Florida, some of my banded birds have been found as far south as Bolivia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic”. On average, an osprey travels 100 miles per day. But on a day when the osprey has “perfect winds”, it can travel 600 miles! So, “for a bird heading 3,000 miles down to Brazil, that trip usually takes about one month”, said Mr. Kearns.
Ospreys can be found on every continent, except Antarctica; and, while they hunt over water, they generally nest on land within a few miles of the ocean or a body of freshwater. This explains why we are so lucky to have so many osprey nests in our area. Ruth Toomey, a local resident, says she loves “her birds” and can’t wait for them to return to their nest near her home each year in March. She has been enjoying the same pair for eight years and considers their return the beginning of spring. This year she posted, “I love that they hovered over me like they were saying: Hello! Welcome back! Spring is here!”
In Severna Park, Oscar and Olivia are the local celebrities whose nest sits atop a light pole that used to illuminate the old high school football field. Because of the community’s dedication to and affinity for the birds, when the new school complex was being built, the light pole and the nest remained. In fact, when they are in the neighborhood, they even have their own webcam and live stream.
One of the larger raptors on record, ospreys have an average wingspan of 5 feet, an average length of 21-23 inches and an average weight of 3-4 pounds. Females are typically larger than males, and a healthy osprey can live up to 20 years. The “Fish Hawk” is a piscivore, a carnivorous animal that eats primarily fish. They are opportunistic hunters with one bird consuming an average of 300 grams of fish per day. And they aren’t picky! Mr. Kearns indicated ospreys will eat whatever fish is readily available: Menhaden, Catfish, Shad, Snakehead and even Goldfish that have been released into a river! Their unique talons have evolved to allow them to grip a fish and easily turn it around to fly more aerodynamically. They are truly magnificent birds.
To learn more about ospreys in our area, click HERE
To learn more about Greg Kearns and the children’s book written about his work, Mr. Greg’s Ospreys be sure to click HERE