Sunday Nature Walk: The Osprey
Also known as the “fish hawk,” the American osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a common bird to see throughout most of the New England region. These birds are most prevalent on the coastline but large lakes and bodies of water such as the Saugatuck, Aspetuck, and Hemlock reservoirs can support these large raptors.
It is well known that ospreys hunt fish, but in this case, size matters. Like other birds of prey, ospreys try to hunt large prey to get the most out of the energy spent catching their meal. Large lakes, sizable ponds, as well as the ocean are best suited habitats for large fish, which will in turn attract osprey.
The osprey was not always as common as it is now. Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society, recalls when the osprey was on the verge of extinction. “Forty years ago, Connecticut, as well as much of New England, noticed a sharp decline in osprey and other raptors,” Comins said.
With the combined efforts of the Connecticut Audubon Society, National Audubon Society, and the many citizen scientists of the region, the cause for the steep decline of raptor populations was traced to the use of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT.
“The problem was the eggshells,” Comins explained. “The shells became too thin and would crack under the pressure of the adult.”
The Connecticut Audubon then organized movements to ban this chemical and to help save the osprey. As of 2020, the osprey population in Connecticut has been fully recovered, much to the credit of the Connecticut Audubon Society and the launch of the Osprey Nation initiative.
Like most birds, the osprey spends the summer months focusing on the growth and well-being of its young. Male and female ospreys both care for the chicks, but they contribute in different ways. The male spends most of the day hunting, working hard to feed not only himself but his mate and from one to four chicks as well.
The female, who is larger, will stay on the nest. Her task is to protect the young from predators such as eagles, great horned owls, and even other ospreys.
Keep an eye out on your next walk along Easton’s bodies of water. If you’re lucky, you might see an osprey carrying its catch of the day.
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