Daily Bird: Osprey
by Joe Attwater
April 12, 2021 — There is perhaps no other bird along the coast of Connecticut that ushers in warm weather better than the Osprey. March into early April is when these magnificent birds make their way back to the state from wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America, just as spring is starting to ramp up.
The Osprey is the only hawk in North America that feeds almost entirely on fish. Fish make up 99% of their diet (they’ll rarely take birds, small mammals, and salamanders), and they have several adaptations that allow for such a unique diet.
Their feathers are denser and more oily than other raptors, providing better waterproofing. They have a reversible outer toe that allows them to better grip fish, which is unusual in hawks, and the soles of their feet are covered in barbs.
After they catch a fish, they usually align the fish head first in their talons to cut down on wind resistance.
Though they may resemble other birds of prey in flight, look for the contrasting dark brown back and wings with white underside. They have a dark line through the eye on a mostly white head. Their bill is strongly hooked, and they tend to hold their wings in a soft “M” shape in flight. Listen for their series of high-pitched calls, both in flight and on the nest.
Where to find it
Ospreys tend to need shallow water for fishing, heading to deeper water only when fish are schooling near the surface. They can be found anywhere there is fish, from rivers and lakes, to swamps and marshes. They usually don’t travel more than 12 miles to catch fish, and they need open, elevated nesting sites free from predators such as raccoons
Last year there were more than 500 active Osprey nests in the state. Look over almost any coastal marsh in Connecticut — and many other locations as well — and chances are you’ll see an Osprey platform with one or two Ospreys on it this time of year. This Osprey Nation map shows just how widespread they are in Connecticut.
You can also watch our Osprey Cam, situated at our Milford Point Center, to get a close-up view of Ospreys and see them raise their chicks (egg-hatching is usually in early June)! The Osprey Cam started live-streaming this weekend.Click to watch the Osprey Cam
The Osprey is a conservation success story. After the pesticide DDT was banned in the US in 1972, populations rebounded, growing 2.5% per year from 1966 to 2015. The construction of artificial nest platforms also helped the bird’s population soar.
They are the second most widely distributed raptor species in the world (after the Peregrine Falcon), but are still endangered or threatened in some states, especially further inland.
Discarded fishing line that gets incorporated into the nests is a growing threat to these birds, as they become entangled and can’t leave the nests. Always make sure to properly dispose of fishing line.