With a large wingspan of approximately 63 inches, striking brown and white plumage, and a very distinctive call, chances are good that you have seen ospreys in our area. In October, your chances of seeing these magnificent raptors increase greatly when ospreys from other parts of North America migrate through our ecosystem on their way south. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, some ospreys may log more than 160,000 migration miles during their 15-to-20-year lifetime.
Scientists are able to track the movements of osprey using satellite monitoring. Barbara Walker, president of Clearwater Audubon Society, says that lightweight backpack-style satellite trackers are used on the raptors.
“Ospreys are certainly one of the most remarkable species,” says Walker. “They are ideal for research using the data obtained with satellite tracking. The data returned can then be used to make sound conservation priorities, not just in Florida, but on a global basis.”
At allaboutbirds.org, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells us that “the devices pinpoint an osprey’s location to within a few hundred yards and last for 2 to 3 years. During 13 days in 2008, one osprey flew 2,700 miles, from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts to French Guiana, South America.
Ospreys which were born on Amelia Island have fledged, increasing our local population. In addition, thousands of osprey migrate through here. These visitors often stay a few days as they feast on our fish, giving them the nutrition they need to navigate the “highway in the sky” which leads them to the tropics and South America.
You may see multiple osprey in one tree, each one snacking on a fish freshly caught from our ocean, marshes, ponds or the Amelia River. Watch for osprey as you cross the bridge at the south end of Amelia Island. They congregate in the pine trees at Amelia Island State Park and they perch on the bridge railings as they survey the water looking for fish.
According to www.fws.gov, “the osprey is unusual in that it is a single living species that occurs nearly worldwide and is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the peregrine falcon.” Because of their fishing prowess, and because 99 percent of their diet is fish, the osprey is nicknamed the Fish Hawk.
Flying and hovering above the water, he plunges at speed toward his target with his fish-hook-like razor-sharp talons extended and his body positioned like an avian fishing spear. He plunges up to 3 feet deep in the water to capture his prey. Soaking wet, he must take flight carrying a wiggling fish (or sometimes even two at a time!), some of which even bite their predator mid-air! After a mighty shake, he uses his reversible outer toe (unique among hawks) to line up his prey in a straight line to reduce wind resistance as he flies to a perch.
Keep your eyes to the Amelia Island skies to experience the joy of osprey-watching. To be a citizen-scientist osprey watcher, join the global community called Osprey Watch. For more information, go to www.osprey-watch.org.