Port Perry, Ontario’s waterfront welcomes new neighbours. Two ospreys have taken up residence in the city center, at the edge of the water.
These magnificent birds inspire admiration but often nest in strange places, such as lampposts and hydroelectric pylons. A couple have nested for years on the ball diamonds north of town and others have nested and are nesting throughout our area.
But one in town? Wow!
These nests are familiar sites in many riverside communities. They are tall and bulky, made mostly of sticks, and are always built high on a pole, tall tree, or other platform.
One of the marvelous success stories of our time followed the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 exposé Silent Spring. The book discussed nature’s vulnerability to human intervention, including the devastating effects of DDT on birds of prey.
Thanks to Carson’s research, we can still see eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey, including osprey.
Mistakenly nicknamed “sea eagle” by some, the osprey actually belongs to a family in its own right and can be found all over the world (except in Antarctica). In this vast range, there is only one species of osprey, which is odd because species usually become genetically divergent by being separated from their peers, and eventually new species emerge.
The osprey is the only falcon in North America that almost exclusively hunts fish and dives into the water to catch them. Sometimes they take rodents, rabbits, hares, amphibians, other birds or small reptiles to supplement their diet.
The osprey is a large bird but it is surprisingly light, weighing between one and two kg. They are mostly white below and fly with a crease in their wings, so they look different from other soaring raptors. Their narrow wings make them agile fliers, and their long legs help them dive deep into the water to catch prey. Their crested heads and large yellow (adult) or orange (immature) eyes are surprising to look at and impressive.
The osprey can live up to 25 years, but usually only survives seven or eight years in the wild, as horned owls and bald and bald eagles prey on them.
While hunting, they soar slowly on their meter-long wings over shallow bodies of water, soar briefly when they spot a fish, then dive feet-first onto their prey. Once caught, the fish are repositioned so that they face forward to reduce drag as the osprey flies towards a perch or its nest.
Owls and ospreys are the only raptors with an outer toe that can be turned backwards, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. Sometimes very large fish can be caught and the osprey cannot take off and has to swim to shore.
To facilitate their aquatic lifestyle, they have sharp spikes on the underside of their toes, nostrils that can be sealed when diving, backward-facing scales on their talons to help hold fish, and oily plumage. to prevent feathers from becoming waterlogged.
Generally, they mate for life, first breeding when they are three or four years old. The female lays two to four eggs and incubates them for 35 to 43 days. You can often hear the adult’s high-pitched whistle near the nest, contrary to what one would expect from a large bird of prey. Eight to 10 weeks after hatching, the young fly alone, but remain close to their parents for some time.
This is the perfect time to observe them and, if you are lucky enough to be near a nest like us, witness the antics of young people learning to hunt and fly. Spring isn’t so quiet anymore – at least in the osprey world.
To help birds like the Osprey, please consider sponsoring me in this year’s Great Canadian Birdathon. You can help me make a difference. To donate online, go to my personalized Birdathon link https://www.canadahelps.org/me/6Ktyncn or contact me by email at [email protected]
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. For interview requests, click here.
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