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by Stan Tekiela
November 13, 2022
Sitting at the edge of the nest the young Osprey was calling out in a begging call trying to be fed. His high-pitched screams echo across the lake and unfortunately go unanswered. His parents are not around. He is all alone and worse yet, he is hungry.
Back in June of this year a pair of adult Osprey nested on my property and produce one offspring. Usually, Osprey produce two or three young but for some reason this was the second year in a row these adult raptors produced only one chick. The number of eggs a female bird produces is based on a lot of factors. It might be her age, or her diet or overall health. Either way, only one chick was hatched.
This single chick was doted on by both its parents and was fed and protected for several months over the summer. All the baby needed to do was sit in the nest and wait for his parents, mostly the father, to bring him some fish.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) also known as Fish Hawk or Sea Eagle are not a hawk or eagle species at all. In fact, they are not closely related to any of our other raptors. They are in a family all their own. So, they are not a hawk, and they are not an eagle. Ospreys are different from other daytime raptors in that they have toes that are all of equal length. In addition, each nail or talon is rounded rather than other raptors that are grooved. Their outer toe is also reversable and can point forward or backwards, allowing them to grasp fish with two toes on one side and two toes on the other thus making sure they hold tightly onto a slippery fish. These are just some of the big differences between Osprey and other raptors.
The name “Osprey” doesn’t have clear origins. The word was first used around 1460’s and was derived from a combination of Anglo-French and Latin and was used to describe a bird of prey. Others say that it comes from the Latin ossifraga and translates to “bone breaker” which was meant to apply to the Lammergrier, (Bearded Vulture) a large vulture that drops bones from the air to break them up on rocks to gain access to the marrow inside. About a hundred years later the name was mistakenly applied to the Osprey, which is a bird that doesn’t break any bones and feeds exclusively on fish. Since then, the name has stuck.
Osprey are found in temperate and tropical regions around the world on all continents except for Antarctica. In fact, it is the second most widely distributed raptor species after the Peregrine Falcon. That is saying a lot because most birds are regional in nature.
Back at my Osprey nest, the young bird is still calling out to be fed and occasionally taking short flights around the lake. Even though this young bird is only 4 months old, it looks and flies like an adult. Technically it should be able to hunt on its own but like most youngsters it wants its parents to feed him.
The problem is the adult female left to migrate south a week or so ago and the adult male is still around but not paying much attention to the young bird. In the next week or so the adult male will also leave and start migrating south. The adults migrate individually and go to their own wintering grounds. They don’t fly in flocks or roost together and the mated pair won’t see each other until next spring when they return to the nest site.
So, this will leave the young Osprey on its own in a world he knows very little about. I find this amazing behavior. It is not as uncommon as you might think. The baby loons on my lake are the same way. The adults are packing up and leaving or have left already and the baby loon doesn’t even know how to fly yet. At least with the Osprey he can fly on his own.
So, over the next couple weeks I will be watching as the young Osprey reduces the number of begging calls for food and goes out hunting for its own meals. It will plunge feet first into the lake grabbing any fish it can. It will go back to the nest to feed and for some comfort of a place that is familiar. But once the leaves fall from the trees and the wind begins to blow cold, the young Osprey will have to start out on a journey it has never been on before. It will have to navigate several thousand miles over three to four weeks and arrive in a place it has never been before to spend the winter. It will spend the next 18 or more months in this wintering range before returning to the lake where it was hatched as a three-year-old bird.
My lake will freeze solid and be blanketed with snow and I won’t see the Osprey family until next spring when the lakes thaw. Usually within a few days of the lake opening up the Osprey parents will return to the nest and start the process all over again and I will be here waiting and wondering how they spent their winter and if the young Osprey made it through the winter. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on Instagram.com, Facebook.com and Twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at naturesmart.com
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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