We watched this Osprey for about ten minutes in Ghost Bay. It perched at the top of a dead birch, turning its head from side to side as if the bay was a buffet table. This guy isn’t nicknamed “Fish Eagle” for nothing. One time, again in Ghost Bay, I watched as an Osprey flew from a perch, hovered over the water, dove in (feet first) and yanked out a good-sized small mouth bass. The bird carried off the wriggling fish in his talons, in a head-forward aerodynamically-efficient position. That’s typical. An Osprey’s body is specially adapted for such dives. Its nostrils are closable, to keep the water out. The soles of its feet have barbed pads on them. Only two raptors, Osprey and owls, have reversible outer toes. This means an Osprey can grab and hang on to its prey with two toes in front and two toes in back. All these adaptations make it easier to hang on to slippery fish. Once in awhile, in a pinch, they might nab a small mammal or rodent, but mostly it’s all fish all the time. Being a miserably ineffective fisherwoman, living on one’s catch of Long Lake fish is a talent I can respect.
An Osprey in flight is easy to recognize. Its belly is white and the underside of its wings are distinctively marked with brown feathers that look a lot like eyes. The front edges of its wings have four long feathers that curl a bit at the ends, with one similarly-shaped shorter fifth feather. Although you can’t see it this photo, that only shows a white head, an Osprey has an eye mask of brown feathers. And these birds are big. On Long Lake, only the Bald Eagles are bigger. Osprey can be two feet long, with a wing span of about six feet.
We have one very prominent Osprey nest on Long Lake. Check out the top of the utility pole on the small island at the south end of the lake. That straggly pile of sticks and stuff isn’t something left behind by the Presque Isle rural electical co-op crew. If we could peek inside the nest at just the right time, we’d see 2-4 big whitish eggs, with splashes of cinnamon coloring. The chicks hatch over the span of 4-5 days. The early-born have a much better chance to survive. Younger siblings typically don’t get pushed out of the nest or cannibalized, but those first few days without competition for food just gives the oldest a leg up. Here’s what an Osprey and its young sound like. Kind of sweeter than what you would think when you see that determined flight from a perch, that menacing hover, and that fierce fast dive for prey.
Osprey populations were endangered by egg collectors and over-hunting in the 19th century and again by DDT in the 20th century. They are doing better now that we work to leave them alone. We are so lucky to be able to live among these Long Lake raptors.