Osprey Facts & Info

OSPREY

The osprey is a large raptor ranging from 20-24 inches (50-60 centimeters) long with a wingspan of 5 to 5 ½ (1.5-1.7 meters) feet.  The plumage is dark on the back, dorsal surface of wings, and crown.  Belly, breast, and underwings are light.  The facial pattern is light with a dark mask running through the eye.  Young-of-the-year birds are distinct from adults in having buff edges on dark feathers and typically have less bright breasts and bellies.  Young birds have bright red eyes compared to the bright yellow eyes of the adults.  Females of all ages are larger than males and most populations tend to have a more pronounced “necklace” of dark feathers.  In-flight, ospreys have arched wings and drooping “hands” giving them a distinctive, gull-like appearance.

Ospreys nest on many different types of man-made structures including buildings, cellular towers, boats, utility poles, and channel markers. Nests on utility poles can pose a significant risk to the adult and juvenile osprey.

Nests on utility structures with energized wires pose risk to osprey from:

  • Fire Hazard. Nest material may ignite from contact with energized wires. Nestling ospreys would be at risk.
  • Electrocution. Osprey can touch parts of the energized structure with their body (wings, feet, bill)  including when they excrete waste.  Juveniles are especially susceptible as they begin to fledge the nest.

Nest management can include trimming nest material, providing alternate nest platforms, or removing nests. Firelands Electric Cooperative is interested in minimizing electric outages from bird electrocutions and is working closely with MWCD and other wildlife organizations on managing bird nests on power poles. 

Migration is one of the most amazing feats performed by osprey with distances of 3,000 miles or more from breeding to wintering territories in South America. The annual return of nesting osprey to breeding sites ranges from March through May in Ohio.  Upon arrival, pairs begin to repair old nests or build new nests.  Osprey nests are large stick structures often built in trees or man-made structures near or over water.  Ambitious pairs have been known to build nests as large as 10 feet deep and several feet wide.  As nest-building nears its conclusion courtship and mating intensify resulting in the laying of 2-4 eggs.  Eggs vary considerably in coloration but typically have a cream-colored base with blotches of some secondary color.  Both adults alternate incubating eggs for approximately 35 days before hatching.  Males are responsible for most of the hunting in the early part of chick-rearing while females brood and feed the chicks.  Young grow rapidly and begin to fly around 8 weeks of age.  Young birds remain on the winter grounds(South America) until they reach 2 to 3 years old when they may return to breeding grounds where they were born to prospect for nesting territories.  They typically breed for the first time when they are 3 to 4 years old or older.  Adults have high mate fidelity and many pairs mate for life.  

Osprey are fish specialists with live fish representing more than 99% of their diet.  They are dramatic hunters that fly or hover over the water to locate fish below the surface and then plunge into the water feet first to capture prey sometimes becoming completely submerged.  Their nostrils close to keep out water.  They have an unusual opposable toe that can face forward or backward.  When they capture or hold fish they have 2 toes oriented forward and 2 oriented backward similar to an owl.  They have highly specialized barbs on the pads of their feet that allow them to grip fish.  Their feathers are also very oily for extra waterproofing as they plunge into the water.  Their wing configuration gives them a great deal of lift to emerge from the water carrying large fish.  As they fly up from the water surface they frequently shake the water from their feathers like a dog.

QUICK FACTS

  • Eat mostly fish (995 of diet), but sometimes they eat lizards, insects, muskrats or even squirrels.

  • Migrate south to South America every year, flying 3,000 miles or more.

  • Mate for life. Their first nest is small, but they add to it every year.

  • Almost disappeared because they were being poisoned by the pesticide DDT. This chemical is now illegal. Ospreys are coming back.

  • Are also known to be called “river hawk” or “fish hawk” 

  • They can live up to 20 years in the wild

  • Can be found on every continent except for Antarctica

  • Prefer to hunt in shallow waters but they can dive over 3 feet in the water if need be.

  • They can catch fish similar to their own size

  • Raccoons often eat Osprey eggs while Great Horned Owls will eat the young chicks and sometimes even Adult Ospreys.

  • Have a wingspan up to 6 feet

  • Chicks are ready to test their wings when they are only 7 or 8 weeks old. After 2 or 3 weeks from their first flight test, they will go hunting with their dad.

Wildlife biologists report 145 osprey chicks were produced from 110 nests throughout the state inn 2019. With the number of breeding pairs steadily increasing over the past 15 years, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Wildlife has removed the osprey from the state’s threatened species list.

The Division of Wildlife uses six categories to list species: endangered, threatened, species of concern, special interest, extirpated and extinct to further define the status of selected wildlife. Ospreys no longer meet the criteria for any of these categories.

“Osprey populations continue to increase in Ohio, especially in northeast Ohio where three-quarters of the 15 new osprey nests have been reported.”” said Dave Sherman, osprey project coordinator for the Division of Wildlife. “Their increase in numbers is excellent news for Ohio.”    

The osprey’s breeding range has grown to include nests in 30 Ohio counties, producing an average of 1.8 chicks per nest.

Ohio's osprey reintroduction program was originally started in 1996, and the goal of the program was to have 20 nesting pairs of ospreys by 2010. That goal was achieved in 2003, seven years ahead of schedule. Last year, 92 breeding pairs were reported.

No state tax dollars are used for this program. Efforts to monitor Ohio’s osprey have been supported by the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Fund, which receives donations from Ohioans through the state income tax check-off program and by the purchase of cardinal license plates. Individuals who are interested may donate online at wildohio.com.

 

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