Osprey

Hey guys, welcome back. The osprey. A bird of prey that is unique among North American raptors. Although in the same order as a number of hawks, the osprey is the lone species in its genus…sort of. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, taxonomy is a complicated thing. There isn’t one taxonomy that everyone follows. There’s actually a number of different taxonomy systems based on slightly different research. I typically use the taxonomy that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses, since they operate eBird, and if they split or combine a species, that’s what affects my life list. All this is to say that while the osprey is in its own genus, some taxonomies list two species of osprey, the “western” osprey found throughout the Americas, and Afroeurasia, and an “eastern” one found in Oceania (including Australia.) There’s also up to 4 subspecies that are extremely similar. Most recognize a single osprey species throughout the world which in itself is pretty unique.

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Osprey in flight, Maidstone Park, East Hampton, NY

Ok, enough of that. Osprey are very cool and unique raptors aside from their taxonomic status. Also known as a “seahawk,” “fish eagle,” or “fish hawk,” the osprey’s diet consists  almost entirely of fish. They circle shallow waters and dive, jutting their legs out in front of them, into the water, coming up with a fish which they then take to a nearby perch to eat. Their feet have special barbs which help hold onto a slippery fish. They also have a reversible toe, allowing them to go from three toes pointed forward and one pointed back, to two toes pointing forward and two pointing back. Many owls share this trait as well. It makes grasping their prey easier.

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Osprey with fish, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jamaica, NY

Osprey are large birds. Kind of right in between (size-wise) a red-tailed hawk and a bald eagle. They’re brown and white birds, with dark brown “wrists” when seen from underneath while soaring. The first one I ever saw was in Central Park. My immediate thought was “that’s a big gull” since the shape of their wings is sort of bent, like a gull. Then as it got closer I could tell what it was. It circled out over Central Park’s Harlem Meer, and dove into the water, nabbing some sort of fish and flying off. It was really cool. You’ll see them nesting atop either a tall dead tree, or a nest platform, and can be found in fresh or salt water. Next up, back to the flycatchers. But this time, one that doesn’t look like a bunch of others, well in the east anyway. See you all then!

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