By Mark Fike
The shrill cries and calls of the adult fish hawk hovering 100 feet above alerted me that I was getting too close to the nest with a pair of young hawks nearly ready to venture out on their own.
Their nest has been used annually since I built the old duck blind some 15 years prior.
These birds are brown on top with white bellies and a brown stripe through the eye. They are found near water and build their nests on boat sheds, poles, lighthouses, docks, duck blinds and in trees.
Their nests are made of sticks mostly, but they will sometimes grab man-made materials too. This is why it’s important for anglers to properly dispose of fishing line so they won’t get tangled.
Ospreys will sometimes use the same nest year after year and, like eagle’s nests, their nests can grow quite large. The one on my old duck blind actually got so big that the roof caved in and the birds kept adding to the structure once it ended up on the floor!
If you’ve ever watched an osprey (aka fish hawk) catch its supper, you know that they’re quite amazing at snagging their allotment of fish.
With long slender wings, a weight of 3-4 pounds, a wingspan of 5-6 feet, and powerful talons, they can certainly take fish up to 24 inches into a tree and have a great meal.
Males are usually smaller than the female. Their wing shape is an “M” shape. Their toes are opposable, meaning they can grasp fish more easily.
When the hawks snag a fish, they almost always grasp it in such a way so the fish’s head is facing forward. Biologists feel this is by design to reduce drag while the birds are flying.
I have witnessed bald eagles harassing ospreys to the point that they drop their fish supper and the bald eagles then scoops up the fish if it doesn’t swim away first or if it falls onto land.
Each spring, the hawks breed and mate, with the female doing most of the nest duties while the male will go catch fish and bring it back for the female and the young.
The eggs take approximately 37-39 days to hatch. After hatching, the young take their first flight in under 2 months. Each pair of hawks attempt to raise one brood a year.
When the young take their first flight, they appear quite awkward. It takes time for them to learn how to fly and then learn how to dive for fish. They miss an awful lot of fish in the first few weeks, but soon get the hang of it. They end up being quite the acrobats in the air.
People who have waterfront homes love to watch the young fledge and learn how to fish on their own. It can be quite entertaining. Hawks that do not get the hang of it don’t tend to make it. However, that is rarely the case unless the bird is not strong enough or is sick.
Ospreys are migratory except for their far southern reaches of their range. When the ospreys show up in an area in the spring, anglers know that means the fish are active too. The hawks will not go and stay where there is no food.
Some ospreys travel as far as Central or South America for the winter. Some sources say they can log in over 150,000 miles in their lifetime of travels!