Pandion haliaetus Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
The osprey looks like a smaller version of the eagle. The bottoms of the feet are covered with spiked scales, which help the bird to grip and hold slippery fish.
The tail is white with alternating bands of white and dark brown. The head is white except for a brown stripe from the eye to the back of the head. Females are slightly larger than males and have darker streaking and a ring of brown spots around the neck. Osprey can be distinguished in flight by the characteristic downward bend or crook in their long narrow wings.
Ospreys are quite common in many parts of Florida – 1,500 to 2,000 pairs were thought to nest in the state in 1983, but their numbers have not been well documented in recent years. When you see an osprey in Florida it may be either a nesting year-around resident, or a bird migrating through the state from northern breeding sites.
Ospreys are usually found near water, primarily large lakes, slow-moving rivers, and coastal areas where trees or man-made structures provide perches or nesting sites. Ospreys feed mainly in mid-morning and late afternoon, hunting either from high perches or by soaring high above the water. When they spot a fish they hover briefly or dive straight into the water - head down, legs, toes and talons extended on either side of the head. During the dive they sometimes completely disappear under the water. Ospreys usually hold fish with both feet. If you watch closely, when they take off after a dive with a fish in their talons, you will often see them move their feet around and change their grip on the fish. They move the fish so that its head is pointing forwards, which reduces the drag.
In south Florida ospreys begin nesting in late November; further north, on Sanibel Island, they start nesting in January, and pairs in north Florida are nesting by late February. The large bulky nest consists of a huge pile of interwoven pile of sticks, lined with soft material such as moss or grass. The nest looks like a bald eagle nest but is smaller.
Osprey usually nest in the tops of tall trees, but in Florida Bay and the offshore islands nests are in low mangroves or even on the ground. Osprey often nest on radio towers, light towers at ball fields and man-made nest platforms. As the number of suitable tall nest trees dwindles, these birds regularly nest on utility poles and many Florida electrical companies have programs to accommodate ospreys.
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