Friday, April 27, 2007

The Fish Hawk

Thanks to a ban on DDT, ospreys have made a comeback over the past few decades. Now common along coastal areas of the U.S., these "fish hawks" are also regular migrants through the Midwest, heading to and from their Canadian breeding grounds. Along the way, they stop to rest and fish on our larger lakes, rivers and reservoirs and are often spotted in dead trees that overlook the water.

Since they have a white head, ospreys are frequently mistaken for bald eagles; in fact, they are a bit smaller and are easily identified by their dark eye stripe, white underparts and the prominant black patches at the bend of each wing. They hunt by soaring and hovering above the water before plunging talons-first to grab a fish; flying back to their perch to feed, they juggle the fish into a head-first position.

While they inhabit Florida throughout the year, ospreys are summer residents along northern coasts and on large lakes of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska. They generally migrate through the Central U.S. in April and October and winter in coastal areas of Florida and Mexico. In breeding areas, these fish hawks construct large, bulky nests in trees or on made-made structures; on the bays and inlets of Florida, they often use channel markers. Their piercing, high-pitched whistles call attention to their presence.