Author: Alyssa H.
For those of us that spend our down time watching and admiring Snappy’s resident Osprey, Dutch and Duchess, it has been a great learning opportunity to pick up on their habits, routine, even being able to understand some of their communication between them and their babies. It is definitely a wonderful and unique experience to observe. Why not dig in and learn a little more about the Osprey world!
Ospreys are one of the oldest in the raptor species (Bird of Prey)! You can count on them evolving over all those years and they sure have! Today they are equipped with nostrils that can close for underwater diving to catch fish, and their outer toe can be angled backwards to better grasp fish through flight. They also can rearrange their catch in their talons, so it faces forward while they are in flight to reduce aerodynamic drag. Osprey’s diet consists of 99% fish, they are hardly ever found eating a carcass and you will rarely catch them with rodents or small game. This sets them apart from the other raptor species.
These birds of prey sure are a sight! They have slender bodies with an average weight between 3-4.4 lbs. with long legs. Their wings are narrow with their wingspan averages 12.3-22.8 inches wide, with four long, finger-like feathers and a shorter fifth. They have a distinct white head with a dark mask over their eyes that can reach to their neck. Their chest, belly and legs are white. The females have a band of color on their chest typically tan to dark brown. In males that band is more faint or even nonexistent. Males are typically a little slenderer than the females. Tops of their wings, back and tail are typically a brown color but can range from a goldish brown to almost black. Ospreys bill and talons are black.
These raptors can be found on almost every continent outside of Antarctica. In year round warm continents Osprey will reside all year long. However, the majority will migrate. They tend to come home to the same nest every year to rebuild, mate, and raise their babies. Over the life span of an Osprey which is anywhere from 15-20 years, they can travel over 160,000 miles! It has been recorded that an Osprey can travel 4,200 miles within a 45-day period.
Before Osprey start their process of building a nest and raising babies, they have to find a mate. All of this starts once an Osprey is anywhere from 3-7 years of age. This process starts with a male performing an aerial display known as the sky-dance. He will bring food and materials for the nest while hovering, wobbling in flight and making screaming sound over a nest to attract the female. Once an Osprey finds a mate they typically mate for life. When the time comes to build a nest, they will start collecting anything from twigs, grass, or any material they can find. Their goal is to build a nest safe for the chicks and also to contain heat. They will make sure to build their nest in tall trees or poles, and close to a body of water. The male will persistently bring food throughout the whole process building/rebuilding, hatching, and raising the chicks. Over time the nest can become up to 10ft tall!
Ospreys are able to communicate to each other through 8 different vocalizations for feelings such as excitement, alarm, and requests for food. They also have 11 physical displays of communication for courtship, protection, rest, and attack. This all helps them work as an ultimate team to raise their babies. It’s about a 5 month period of partnership to raiser their young.
Baby Osprey are the absolute cutest! It is so fun to watch them grow and learn the life skills to be ready to leave the nest. Most Osprey lay 1-4 eggs within a months’ time. The eggs are whitish with bold splotches that are reddish brown. Egg size is typically 2 ½ in x 1 ¾ in and weigh about 2 ¼ oz. They are incubated for 35 to 43 days before hatching with both the male and the female incubating them. Once the chicks are hatched, they only weigh about 1 ¾ – 2 oz, but they are grown enough for flight in just 8 to 10 weeks This is where some of the heart break can come into play. The 1st born has a high chance of survival. A lot of the time the rest surviving depends on supply and demand. If there isn’t enough food that can be brought for all the babies unfortunately some are lost. Other times a chick might be sickly. To ensure survival of the healthy chicks, parents will start to be push the weak out of the nest. It’s a sad but necessary process. Chicks can also be lost to overheating and other natural causes. A mother Osprey will mourn the loss of her baby. She does so by hanging by the area where they passed. But on to lighter things… When the chicks are about 2 months old, they will learn to fly. They have also learned other essential skills such has cleaning themselves, eating, communication, and watching how to build a nest. (The female will continue to build on the nest after the chicks have hatched with the male still bringing in material to do so.) They will remain in the nest for another 2 months, receiving food and protection. They will continue learning how to fish. Once they have that skill, they will fly away from the nest to begin their own journey.
Osprey are fascinating with unique traits that set them apart from any of the other raptors. If you haven’t already, please check out the osprey camera we have on our website. (www.ospreymontana.com) We usually have birds from May to September. Any other time of the year you can always check it out. You never know what you might see, an eagle, magpies, or even some geese.