Critter Facts: Osprey

April 3, 2015

Ever been sitting on the beach in the summer and hear above your head, “peep, peep, peep, peep”?  You look up expecting a small bird to match such a small voice, instead you see a hawk!!  This small voiced hawk is the osprey (Pandion haliaetus), or fish hawk, and you should start listening for them now!

Osprey pairs return from southern climates starting in late March and will often return to the nest they’ve used for years.  Each year they add to their nest which often looks like a pile of sticks but can also include driftwood, bones, and trash.  You can’t go very far on the Connecticut coastline without seeing a nest…they are huge!!  Often times you will see man-made platforms made specifically for ospreys, and they aren’t shy about using them!

Photo by Christina Spiegeland

In April, most pairs will have completed the renovations on their nest and lay their eggs (which averages about three per pair).  The eggs are incubated for about a month and, after hatching, remain with the parents for about four months.  The parents and young then separate as they make the migration to their wintering grounds in Florida, Mexico and South America.

What makes the osprey so interesting is a unique adaptation enabling it to catch its prey, which is primarily fish.  The lower surface of the toe of an osprey is covered in spicules (short, spikes) which allow for maximum grip on a wiggling fish.  Osprey also have a reversible outer toe (like owls) which helps the osprey grip prey with two toes in front and two in back.  Ospreys even carry the fish with its head facing forward to reduce air resistance while flying.

Seeing an osprey is a sure sign that summer is on its way, so start looking and listening for these impressive birds.