By PHILIP HWANG
The osprey (Pandion halieatus) is a large raptor and can grow to over two feet in body length with a 6-foot wingspan. It is known around the world as the sea hawk, the river hawk, and the fish hawk. However, it technically isn’t a hawk as it has some key differences that set it apart from all hawks. Some of these characteristics include toes that are all the same length and finely barbed feet used for catching slippery, wet fish. The talons are especially long and curved beyond their toes to the point they cannot walk on the ground flat footed. Their genus, Pandion, and family Pandionidae are specific to the osprey and only have the world’s two osprey in it — the Western Osprey and the Eastern Osprey.
It’s a bird! As prolific fishers, they are found near bodies of water and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. They are monogamous and will mate for life, often returning to their nest year after year.
The nest itself is gigantic and can measure over six feet in diameter and weigh over 300 pounds. A nesting pair can commonly be found around Lake Murray with their distinct high-pitch calls piercing the air. Their diet is almost exclusively freshly caught fish.
It’s a plane! Spend any time in San Diego and the familiar thump-thump-thump or view of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey high in the sky can be seen and heard. These aircraft are famous for having a vertical takeoff and landing, known as VTOL. It can alternate between helicopter and plane modes to take off vertically and then fly horizontally. Sound familiar?
The osprey bird uses this same technique when hunting — it dives deep into the water, closing its nostrils (like a nose plug) and closing clear eyelids (like goggles) to catch a fish. The osprey can fully submerge itself while fishing. After catching the fish, it must fight the fish, which is trying to swim down, and create enough lift to not get dragged back under water.
The osprey has an oily substance covering its feathers and body that is hydrophobic, making the entire bird essentially water resistant. This allows a submerged osprey to generate enough lift with water repellant wings and a freshly caught fish to fly straight up out of the water.
If you are lucky to witness a catch, also notice that when flying, the osprey will move the fish around in its talons to reposition the fish for optimal wind resistance and carry the fish with the fish facing forward.
Come to Lake Murray and witness the awesome osprey. If lucky, you can hear the calls and see the fishing. If luckier, you’ll see the V-22 Osprey aircraft flying overhead. And if you visit over and over again, you can watch the breeding pair raise chicks to juveniles into adulthood. And they eventually move out and can feed themselves. Nature truly is magical.
— Philip Hwang is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.