Osprey’s Return to Maine

by John Briggs on April 17, 2010

in Bird Photographs, Bird Photography Weekly, Blog, Wildlife


Osprey with a fresh catch of fish | Click thumbnail for larger view

One of the birds that I look forward to seeing during spring migration is the Osprey. The Osprey is a master of hunting over water. Its diet consists of fish, which it finds by flying over the water, spotting its target, and then diving down with its talons outstretched. The successful Osprey will then emerge from the water and fly off to its nest high in the treetops, often miles away, with its catch secure in its claws. The Osprey’s range can be easily 20 miles or so from its nest, and it will often fly great distances to find good fishing grounds.

An Osprey’s feet are covered with scales on the top and spines, called spicules, on the bottom. The sharp talons help the Osprey grip slippery prey. Their talons are curved like fishhooks, and the birds have an added feature of a reversible toe that allows them to have two toes forward and two toes back for better gripping. Osprey talons will reflexively snap closed when they come in contact with prey, and biologists report that the talons can snap shut faster than a human eye can blink. In addition, these talons allow the Osprey to turn the fish so that the aerodynamic head of the fish is facing forward.

The following is an audio clip of an Osprey’s call. Click the play button.

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Osprey fish in our cove depending on the tide. Mid tide, whether rising or falling, seems to be the best bet for watching Osprey from our backyard. If our windows are open, we hear them calling and go out onto the deck to watch them fish. Osprey are known to soar at altitudes of 50 to 180 feet and hovering over their prey and then diving full force feet first, often completely submerging themselves to bring up their catch. If the Osprey are lucky, they can come out of the water with two fish gripped in their talons.

Every year, usually mid to late May, several hundred thousand alewives make their way from the Atlantic Ocean, up the Damariscotta River, through the Great Salt Bay and climb up the fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills, Maine. Alewives find themselves prey for various predators including Osprey, Bald Eagles, Cormorants, Herons and Gulls. This is my favorite time of the year! The action is hot and heavy, and photographic opportunities are many. I spend more time at Damariscotta Mills during the alewive run than I do at home. Stay tuned for photos!

The following photos (including the one above) were taken this week from our backyard. When I returned inside to go through the photos, I missed photographing the action of a lifetime. A Bald Eagle slamming into an Osprey, forcing it to drop its fish. The Bald Eagle grabbed the fish off the surface of the water and returned to its nest. I stood at our picture window with my jaw dropped and eyes wide, thinking if I had stayed outside another five minutes, I may have captured this phenomena!

Simply click a thumbnail for a larger view. Photo will open in a “shadowbox”.

Happy birding!



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