What a wonderful, active season – birds leaving and returning, wildflowers beginning to emerge and blossom, the winter buds on trees opening to reveal flowers and leaves!! When we went to Baum Lake on March 17th so many changes had occured in the week since we last were there. One of the most thrilling was the return of the ospreys.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) survive almost exclusively on fish and thus live only where there are fish within about twelve miles of their nest. Therefore they winter in the southern states and Central and South America where water remains open throughout the cold months. Osprey do not frequent Big Valley where we live, so it is difficult for me to know exactly when they return to northeastern California. I do not see or hear them on a daily basis. However, they are now back in the Fall River Valley CA.
The only raptor that is dark brown above and completely white below, osprey also have a white head with brown eye stripes. Osprey are often confused with bald eagles, but bald eagles, even immatures, are not totally white on the underside. The osprey has a bill that is black and sharply curved. Its talons have hooks and the undersides of the toes have rough areas, both adaptations for holding onto slippery fish. The osprey’s body is slender for such a large bird. The wings are large in relation to body size, giving the osprey greater power for lifting fish out of the water.
Osprey, also commonly called fish hawks, soar high above the water watching for their prey or will hover briefly above the water with their legs extended before diving down to catch a fish. Osprey actually plunge under the water to capture a fish. Since they can only dive about three feet deep, osprey prefer to live and hunt near shallow bodies of water. It is quite exciting to watch an osprey plunge under the water with a big splash and emerge bearing a fish in its talons.
This osprey was in a ponderosa pine next to Hat Creek near Baum Lake (Shasta County CA). Additional osprey pictures can be viewed in two posts from last year, Unbalanced Osprey on August 10th and Osprey on September 25th. The latter post has pictures of osprey in flight.