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NAUGATUCK RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION

 

Osprey-Fish Hawks                                                                Bob Gregorski

The large Pandion haliaetus sailed with the wind currents about 75 feet above Black Rock Pond in Watertown.  Its sizeable wings beat every few seconds to control its flight. Then it made an abrupt clockwise turn, climbed higher then circled back. After its flight circle became significantly smaller, it hovered momentarily, tucked its wings and dive-bombed toward the pond surface.  With in seconds it crashed into the water head first with talons stretched out ahead.  There was a loud splash.  It emerged from the water flapping its wet wings and rose upward with a fish held broadside in its talons.  It quickly moved the fish into an aerodynamic position (head facing forward) as it ascended.  I have observed scores of osprey carrying fish; all of them held fish as described.

Luckily it flew close by where I was standing. I saw the dark masked raptor would be having a 12”-14” brown trout for dinner.  It flew to a nearby branch high in an oak tree where its partner awaited.  I believe the successful fish hawk was a female because it was larger than its mate.  She began sharing the trout as they ripped it apart.  It was a sight to behold!

That was one of the scores of scenarios I have witnessed in Connecticut waters which include: Long Island Sound, the Connecticut, Housatonic, Farmington, Niantic, Pomperaug and Naugatuck rivers, Mount Tom Pond, Lake Quassapaug, Candlewood Lake, Lake Winnemaug and West Hill Pond.

Each Fish Hawking experience that I have observed has been exciting as previous ones.  I hope to some day view an osprey emerge from the water with a fish in each talon.  They have powerful talons. The outer toe on each foot, which is reversible, allows it to grab fish from behind.  Thus they can hold their prey with two toes in back and two in front. Their toes are covered with short spike-like protrusions that increase their grip.

The living color vision of osprey is eight times better than that of people. Their dark mask and eyebrows helps reduce water glare.  No wonder the species has survived.  Fossils of osprey-like birds date back 15 million years.

My observations include sightings in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.  Some coastal aficionados say that the graceful flying, fast diving osprey is the bird that symbolizes the New England coast.  Some research indicated that its catch rate varies 0.5 to 0.9 per dive.  Osprey has been clock-using radar to attain dive speeds of up to 40 MPH and they can lift fish up to four pounds.

Many osprey return from their winter quarters in South America, West Indies and Central America to New England to nest in the spring.  Often there will be several nesting platforms in the same area, which indicates they are social raptors. Their arrival in Connecticut is timely; it coincides with the spring migratory runs of white perch, river herring, American and hickory shad. During the summer and early fall, they feed along the coast on stripers and bluefish and inland rivers, lakes and ponds for trout, bass and any fish swimming close to the surface.

Fish hawks are one of the most widely distributed raptors being observed by people throughout the world.  Their bodies average 21 to 25 inches in length and have wingspans of 54 to 72 inches.  Adults have a brownish-black back and white chest; their head is white with a dark crown and dark eye stripe. Fish hawks feed primarily on fish, hence nest and live in close proximity to water containing populations of fish.

Look for these magnificent raptors when you are by any water.  You may be treated to scenic avian experience.