July 10, 2013

Summer Beaches and Aquatic Hawks

If vacation this year takes you to Cape Cod, the Rhode Island Shore, Coastal Maine or New Hampshire you have a good chance of catching site of New England’s “aquatic hawk”. No typo here, the Osprey is a fish hunting raptor the size of a large Red-tailed hawk. It is common to the salt marshes, inlets, and broken coast line of the entire eastern U.S. and can even be found inland nesting around beaver ponds and large bodies of water. Endemic to both the new and old world, the singly named Osprey is a champion of the environmental work to limit pesticide use, specifically DDT which was linked to thin egg shells and subsequent population decline of the 1960s and 70s.

Today Ospreys are again in healthy numbers and glide over open water and coastlines on slightly dipped down wings, pausing to hover above a fish, and then with wings pulled back and talons outstretched, plunge into the water piercing its unsuspecting prey. This hunting method is unique to Ospreys and makes them easy to identify but, when Ospreys are not actively hunting they have the ability to shape shift making them harder to identify. In flight the Osprey can at once look thick and muscular like a Bald eagle with primary wing feathers (“fingers”) outstretched or diminutive and flappy like a slender-winged Herring gull. The signature “M” shape is a helpful visual clue in identifying these fish eating hawks. The Osprey’s wings both curve down when viewed head on as well droop back when viewed from underneath, in both cases giving them a curvy “M” shapeWatch for these amazing aquatic hunters on your next trip to the shore or lake. 

1 comment:

Cynthia M. said...

I saw a bunch of Opsreys while in New York on vacation last week. Both up in the mountains (around the larger streams) and down near the city on the shore. Love these guys - they're still uncommon enough to be an thrill when you see one!

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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