Ospreys: The Real Sea Hawks

Here in Southwest Florida, it is not uncommon to see an osprey flying overhead or perched in a tree near a body of water. They are easily recognized by their large size, black wings, white chest and belly, and distinct black stripe through their eye. These amazing raptors are expert fish hunters, and they have incredible adaptations that enable them to be extremely successful predators.

Photo Courtesy Shari Lambeth

Let’s start with those feet! Like all raptors, ospreys have four toes and on the end of each toe is a long, curved talon. These powerful feet are used to catch and kill their prey (the word raptor comes from the Latin rapere, meaning to snatch, grab, or take away). Unlike most other raptors, ospreys have a specialized toe arrangement. Most raptors have three toes in the front and one toe in the back. But ospreys are able to rotate their outer front toe to the back when hunting. You might be thinking, “Why does this matter?” Well, having two toes in the front and two toes in the back helps ospreys to have a solid grip on the slippery fish in their grasp, and also enables them to carry their fish head first — making their flight as aerodynamic as possible.

Photo Courtesy Brenda Hiles-Hurt

If you’ve ever seen an osprey dive after a fish, you know that it’s quite the sight to see! Unlike their raptor relative, the bald eagle, who catches fish right at the surface of the water, ospreys dive completely under water in pursuit of their next meal. Their excellent vision allows them to locate the fish swimming beneath the surface. Their skeleton is built to withstand the impact of diving into the water. And their powerful flight muscles give them the strength needed to get back out of the water and fly off with the fish.

Scientists have done studies on ospreys’ hunting skills — and what they’ve found is remarkable. On average, for every twelve minutes spent actively hunting, ospreys successfully catch a fish. Twelve minutes! For you fishermen out there, you know this is pretty incredible. Further, ospreys have success rates as high as 75%. Meaning, that for every four attempts to catch a fish, ospreys are successful three of those times. Given that their next meal is continuously swimming away, this is an impressive statistic.

Photo Courtesy Shari Lambeth

Want to see an osprey up close? Join the Conservancy on a Good Fortune Eco-Cruise! March is a great month to head out on a sunset cruise, where you will have the opportunity to see dozens of nesting ospreys raising their youngsters out in Rookery Bay. Interested in going on a cruise? Call 239–403–4236 for more information and to pick a date. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Ospreys on Good Fortune Sunset Cruise — Photos Courtesy Kevin Cafarelli