Also known as a Sea Hawk or a River Hawk, the osprey is a very successful raptor, and the species we have in our area can be found on all continents around the earth except Antarctica! They migrate south into East Texas during the fall every year, and the time is now good to see them in all their debonair plumage.
These birds are simply stunning with bright white throats and undersides, deep brown wing feathers, striped tails, bright golden eyes and heavy black eye swooshes! Their large curved claws and hooked beaks define them as successful predators. And they are superb fishing birds, roosting and nesting near bodies of water including rivers, ponds, lakes, and oceans. Fish make up most of their diet, although small birds and mammals will do in a pinch. Standing about 2’ high with a wingspan of about 6’ and weight of 4-5 lbs. they are almost an even match for our bald eagles.
Ospreys and bald eagles occupy the same niche, hunt for the same food and often prefer perching in the same trees. If an osprey has possession of a tree first and an eagle soars by, the osprey will start up a shrill cheeping to warn off the eagle. If an eagle sees an osprey flying by with a fish in it talons, the eagle will try to steal it away.
The osprey population declined in the early to mid 1900’s, as did many bird populations, due to the widespread use of DDT to control insect pests, and the lack of strong protection laws. DDT was banned in the mid 1900’s when it was found to cause serious health problems for both animals and humans. Ospreys have never been on the Endangered Species list, but they are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to possess or harm them, or their nests and eggs. Once these laws were in place, they staged a strong comeback in the United States.
You can learn more about the nature in our beautiful area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!