Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tuckasegee Osprey

While driving home along the Tuckasegee yesterday, I saw a bird that had me slamming on the brakes and grabbing my camera. The bird had its back to me, but because of its dark plumage and white head I wondered if I had come upon a bald eagle.

I snapped this picture and tried to get positioned for a better look, but the bird took flight. At that point, I discounted my first notion - that it was an eagle - and, instead, suspected it might be an osprey.

That's still my guess, but I would appreciate someone more knowledgeable correcting me in case it is, say, a whippoorwill. Won't hurt my feelings a bit.

I had a hunch the bird might be lingering at that spot on the river, so this afternoon I took a spin by there. Sure enough, the bird was perched on the very same limb as it was yesterday. And this time, it was munching on a good sized fish it had plucked from the river.

National Geographic provides this information on ospreys:

Ospreys are superb fishers and indeed eat little else—fish make up some 99 percent of their diet. Because of this appetite, these birds can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways around the world. Ospreys hunt by diving to the water's surface from some 30 to 100 feet (9 to 30 meters) up. They have gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water with their curved claws and carry them for great distances. In flight, ospreys will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance.

Ospreys are sometimes confused with bald eagles, but can be identified by their white underparts. Their white heads also have a distinctive black eyestripe that goes down the side of their faces. Eagles and ospreys frequent similar habitats and sometimes battle for food. Eagles often force osprey to drop fish that they have caught and steal them in midair.

Human habitat is sometimes an aid to the osprey. The birds happily build large stick-and-sod nests on telephone poles, channel markers, and other such locations. Artificial nesting platforms are common in areas where preservationists are working to reestablish the birds. North American osprey populations became endangered in the 1950s due to chemical pollutants such as DDT, which thinned their eggshells and hampered reproduction. Ospreys have rebounded significantly in recent decades, though they remain scarce in some locales.

Most ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter. They lay eggs (typically three), which both parents help to incubate. Osprey eggs don't hatch all at once, but are staggered in time so that some siblings are older and more dominant. When food is scarce these stronger birds may take it all and leave their siblings to starve.

And, wouldn't you know, Mary Oliver has written a poem on the osprey:

The Osprey

This morning
an osprey
with its narrow
black-and-white face

and its cupidinous eyes
leaned down
from a leafy tree
to look into the lake – it looked

a long time, then its powerful
shoulders punched out a little
and it fell,
it rippled down

into the water -
then it rose, carrying,
in the clips of its feet,
a slim and limber

silver fish, a scrim
of red rubies
on its flashing sides.
All of this

was wonderful
to look at,
so I simply stood there,
in the blue morning,

Then I walked away.
Beauty is my work,
but not my only work -

when the fish was gone forever
and the bird was miles away,
I came back
and stood on the shore, thinking -
and if you think
thinking is a mild exercise,

I mean, I was swimming for my life -
and I was thundering this way and that way
in my shirt of feathers -
and I could not resolve anything long enough

to become one thing
except this: the imaginer.
It was inescapable
as over and over it flung me,

without pause or mercy it flung me
to both sides of the beautiful water -
to both sides
of the knife.

~ Mary Oliver

1 comment:

Blair said...

Ospreys are wonderful birds...seeing them on the Tuck is always exciting. I hope we humans keep vigilant about environmental issues (like taking up a cause such as fighting for a DDT ban worldwide) so that fish eaters can continue to thrive