National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis) Known ordinarily as the "fish hawk," the osprey is found about large bodies of water. Being dependent on fish for food, it never strays far from water except dur ing casual wanderings when in migration. Though it may eat an occasional water snake or frog, practically all of its food is composed of fish, most of which it cap tures alive. In fishing, the bird flies slowly from 30 to Ioo feet above the water, scanning the surface closely until a fish is sighted, when it turns and drops swiftly, sometimes even going beneath the surface. Rising with its victim held firmly in both feet, the os prey pauses for an instant, supported by broad-spread wings, to shake the water from its plumage; then flies to some perch where its meal may be enjoyed. As it rises, it adjusts its grip so that the fish is carried end on, thus affording a minimum of resistance to the air. FISH HAWKS ARE NOT EPICUREAN IN TIEIR TASTES Any fish of proper size that come near the surface are taken. Toadfish are as acceptable as other varieties. Such species as menhaden, which go in large schools, are favorites. In summer on Chesapeake Bay I have seen fish hawks feeding regu larly on eels. The birds have habitual perches to which they carry food, the ground beneath these being strewn with fish bones accumulated from many meals. Where fishermen sort the catch from their nets, I have seen os preys gather in flocks to pick up discarded dead fish, seizing these from the water or picking them from the sandy beach. Occasionally ospreys are known to strike fish too large for them to handle, and when their claws become caught the birds are pulled beneath the surface and drowned. In its fishing the osprey does not always continue unmolested, as the bald eagle, also with an appetite for fish, often resorts to robbery. Watching until an osprey has made its catch, the eagle descends on the fish hawk, in an effort to make it give up its prey, continuing in relentless pursuit with broadly beating wings until the smaller bird drops the booty. If an osprey is obstinate, the eagle finally strikes, knocking it through the air to make it release the catch. As the fish falls, the eagle descends swiftly to seize it in the air, or picks it up from the surface of the water. On rare occasions an osprey with a small fish may escape, but ordinarily the bird is so burdened that its flight is ham pered to a point where it can make no defi nite resistance. Where two eagles combine in this rob bery, the case is hopeless, for, wherever the osprey turns, one of the eagles is soon upon it and it can find no avenue of escape. The plate illustrates the beginning of such a scene, with one eagle descending on an osprey that has just made its catch, and another swinging about in the background. Relieved of its catch, the osprey may strike angrily at the robber, but the larger bird easily wards off such blows with its broad wings. Occasionally, however, the tables are turned, for when ospreys gather in colonies several may band together and harry marauding eagles from the vicinity. The nest of the osprey ordinarily is a huge structure of sticks, cornstalks, weeds, and other rubbish, placed in the top of a tree, on a rock ledge, on the summit of a pinnacle rock, or occasionally on the roof of a building or chimney. It may also place the nest on the ground. Frequently grackles, night herons, and English sparrows place their nests in the base of the huge structure occupied by the osprey. The larger bird pays no attention to its smaller neighbors.* OSPREYS RANGE OVER A LARGE PART OF THE NEW WORLD The eggs, from two to four, with three making the usual set, are creamy white, spotted and blotched with brown and lav ender. With their rich colors and bold markings, they are among the handsom est eggs found in this order of birds. The osprey is easily distinguishable at a distance from the eagle and from other hawks by its white breast and long, angu lar wings. It breeds from Alaska, Hudson Bay, and Nova Scotia to Baja California and the Florida Keys, wintering from Flor ida and Baja California to the West In dies and South America. Allied races are found in the Bahamas and in the Old World. * See "Photographing the Nest Life of the Osprey," by Capt. C. W. R . Knight, in the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for August, 1932.