Nature Notes: The osprey's most noteworthy behaviors
One morning several years ago, I walked out of our former home at the end of Bounty Street. Perched nearby and overlooking the marsh was a beautiful, mature bald eagle. I ran back inside to tell my girls and to grab a camera, but as I re-emerged from the house, the eagle was attacked by an osprey. The osprey was relentless and ultimately chased the eagle, some three times its size, across Beresford Creek and out of sight. I was impressed by the intensity of the assault and wanted to learn more about these birds. So, besides being a fierce defender of its territory and the Daniel Island School’s mascot, what else is interesting about the osprey, or Pandion haliaetus?
I have always been fascinated by wildlife, especially birds, and particularly the incredible migratory journeys some of them make. During “Career Days” at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School, I could be found between the future doctors, teachers and firemen with my poster boards covered with photos of ducks, geese, doves, etc. While I never did become the game warden I once aspired to be, I have spent every possible minute outside observing the wildlife that has so fascinated me since I was a boy.
The osprey is a world-class traveler. Its breeding range goes as far north and west as northern Canada and Alaska with some birds wintering as far south as Chile and Argentina. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org), one particular osprey travelled over 2,700 miles in 13 days. Apparently the chilly waters of Martha’s Vineyard had lost their allure and this bird preferred to dive for his fish in the tropical waters of French Guiana.
A couple of the osprey’s most noteworthy behaviors can be readily seen here on Daniel Island. First, these birds feed almost exclusively on live fish, which they often dive into the water to catch. It is not uncommon to see a heavily burdened osprey, which reaches about four pounds in size, lugging a sizeable largemouth bass or other fish from an island pond after plunging into the water from above.
Nesting is also a watchable activity. Ospreys construct large nests, typically working together in pairs. Nests are usually built in the open and atop many types of structures from telephone poles to channel markers. The Bishop England stadium lights have been a frequent nesting spot in recent years, as an example. Osprey pairs mate for life but will “remarry” if one of the pair dies prematurely. The U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Lab has banded millions of birds, including ospreys, to track both movements and lifespans. Their records indicate that ospreys can live up to 25 years.
Nesting time is approaching, so as you enjoy the trails and natural beauty of Daniel Island, be on the lookout for this special bird. There are countless pictures online, and a shrill combination of whistles and chirps can help locate them as well. If an osprey is hunting, take the time to watch for a while. The high-speed dives into a lake or pond can be quite spectacular.