A familiar bird in spring and summer to almost anyone who goes out on Alabama’s many reservoirs and rivers is the osprey. This large raptor, which is a resident or long distance migrant here in the U.S., is missing from most of Alabama in the winter, preferring to fly south to Central or South America.
Perhaps this is so he doesn’t have to tangle with the larger bald eagles that come to us and compete for his food supply.
As an avid fisherman myself, I really enjoy observing these large brown and white birds as they soar over the lake on slow days. Many a time I have found myself somewhat jealous when I see one dive gracefully from great heights, go down 3 feet or so and extract a fine 1 to 3 lb. fish from the water that, on some days, even I can’t seem to locate, much less grasp in my slimy talons.
Their spring nests are large and conspicuous, often on power poles or navigation buoys, and must supply a plentiful cache of fish for, at the most, a twelve mile distance. They raise one brood a year, with a clutch of 1-4 eggs, incubate them a little over a month, and the young are born as fuzzy softballs, covered with down able to move around a bit.
They are a conservation success story, as their numbers crashed from 1950 to 1970, suffering from the same fate as bald eagles with pesticide bio-accumulation. Banning DDT and other pesticides resulted in widespread nesting success and they are gradually coming back to a worldwide population of about a half million birds.
Also a great help to their comeback has been nesting platforms. When lakes become more and more filled with shoreline developments, suitable nesting sites have disappeared and contributed to this bird’s decline. You can erect a nesting platform that they readily use and have a wonderful display of this bird’s abilities right in your riverfront back yard. See plans at https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/birds/osprey/?region=southeast&habitat=lake.
If you do not live on a lake, but visit often, please remember to not discard fishing line and tackle in or around the water. Entanglement and ingestion of discarded line is a large problem that continues to threaten these majestic birds of prey.
Look for a large bird, lots of white showing underneath, with a distinctive “M” shape to their wings as they fly. Go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/sounds, and listen to their distinctive calls. They are easy to recognize once you hear one.
Also, come out to the Park, I will show you one, but if you fish like I do, be prepared for a bit of bird envy, as they are good at what they do.