Burien, Washington



Mewsings from Millie

Hello, and welcome back to my musings!

With so many nesting pairs in the area, I thought I would revisit the column I wrote regarding the osprey and perhaps embellish it with a few new gems of knowledge.

The osprey is also known as the sea hawk or fish eagle. It is the only member of the family Pandionidae. The genus name, Pandion, comes from the mythical Greek king of the same name who transformed into an eagle.

Ospreys are large raptors reaching twenty-four inches in height and having a wingspan of up to six feet. The upperparts of an osprey's body is a deep, glossy brown. The underparts are white and the breast is white, sometimes streaked with brown. The bill is black and the feet are white with black talons. The osprey's head is white with a dark mask over the eyes that reaches down to the neck.

Ospreys are found on all the continents except Antarctica. In South America, they occur only as non-breeding migrants. They've been around for a long time, though. Bones found in California and Florida have been dated back to 13 million years ago!

Ospreys and owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible allowing them to grasp prey with two toes in front and two toes behind. This lessens wind resistance while flying with prey clutched between the feet.

Ospreys can hover momentarily before plunging feet first into the water from 32 to 130 feet above to capture their prey. Although their diet is 99% fish, ospreys will occasionally hunt rodents, rabbits, amphibians, other birds and small reptiles.

Ospreys mate for life. In the spring they begin a five-month partnership to raise their young. Both adults gather nesting material but the female does the building and arranging of the nest.

The female lays two to four eggs and both parents will incubate them for about five weeks until they hatch. Both adults care for the chicks protecting them from predators and harsh weather. Dad, however, will be the primary hunter and provider for the first six weeks or so working hard to catch up to ten fish a day to feed mom and the little ones, not to mention himself!

After eight to ten weeks have gone by, the chicks will fledge. They will not become mature adults for another three years.

The usual life span of an osprey is 7 to 10 years although some individuals can grow as old as 20 to 25 years of age. The oldest European wild osprey on record lived to be over 30!