Thursday, August 7, 2014

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) Yu’e

(55 cm.) Dark brown neck; back, wings and tail; white throat, crown and under parts; dark mask.

The Osprey is a truly cosmopolitan species of raptor which can be found on every continent on earth except Antarctica. It is also called Fish Hawk or Fish Eagle due to its heavy reliance on fish as a component of its diet. It is the sole member of its subfamily, “Pandioninae.” The fact that the Osprey is the lone member of its family living world-wide makes it a bird of particular interest.

The Osprey, which looks like a small eagle, is the sole member of its family due several physical differences between it and other diurnal birds of prey. Unlike eagles and hawks, the Osprey has a reversible toe which enables it to place two talons pointing backwards on its foot. Also, its toes are of equal length, and its talons are rounded as opposed to grooved. Furthermore, the Osprey’s feet are equipped with sharp barbs that make grasping fish an easier task. These oddities in the feet are specific adaptations to its fish-hunting way of life.

In China, the Osprey is found over much of the eastern and western parts of the country, but it is absent from much of the central region. In Eastern China, it is a resident species in the Northeast and the South Coast from around Xiamen to Hong Kong. It is also a resident species of Taiwan.

The Osprey is an unmistakable bird due to its distinctive dark brown mask, wings, body and tail, and otherwise white plumage. Males and females look alike, although males can be identified by their slimmer bodies and narrower wings.

The Osprey has been dubbed, “Fish Eagle,” as fish constitute around 99% of its diet. The other one percent is made up of the occasional rodent, rabbit, reptile, or other bird species. Ospreys catch fish by hovering over the water’s surface until a fish is sighted and then diving feet first into the water. At other times, the Osprey can avoid diving by swooping over the water’s surface and snatching fish from just below the surface. Closeable nostrils prevent water from entering the bird during those occasions when the bird’s head may become submerged during its fishing attempts.

Osprey nests are platforms of sticks which can be found in trees, on utility poles, or even on large rocks. The female lays 2-4 eggs, and incubates them for around 5 weeks. Young Ospreys take several months to gain full independence from their parents. Ospreys generally mate for life.

Osprey (Photo by Mike Baird)

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