Catch of the Day

Mom returns with morning catch

Of all the raptor species, Osprey are the greatest catchers of fish. So great, in fact, that Bald Eagles find it easier to simply follow an Osprey and steal its catch. Because fish is their primary source for food and water, Ospreys are uniquely adapted to be the most efficient of all seabirds.

When a fish is hooked by the Osprey’s talons, the bird turns its catch head first which makes it easier to control in flight. Otherwise, a fish could more easily flap itself loose. Osprey will typically land on a favorite perch to eat their catch. If there are chicks to care for, the Osprey will save leftovers for the youngsters. Males provide for both Mom and the offspring during nesting season.

Osprey can catch fish up to four pounds, and twenty-two inches in length. Mom (above) eats 2-3 fish per day. With binocular-like vision, she circles over the waters of Mission Bay which is teeming with a variety of species including jacksmelt, surfperch, spotted sand bass, bat ray, turbot, yellowfin croaker, halibut, bonito, barracuda, calico bass, leopard shark, sculpin, and shortfin corvina. Once spotted, she dives feet-first to hook the catch with the help of her uniquely designed swiveling toes and mighty talons.

Images captured at second Osprey nest.

To the untrained eye, the Osprey looks just like a bird of prey should. Talons, hooked beak, vivid yellow eyes. But it also has some characteristics that make it truly unique among raptors. Especially when catching fish.

In common with most raptors, it has four long toes — three in front and one in back. As the bird reaches for a fish, its outer front toe swivels to the rear, giving it two grasping talons front and back. And those toes are lined with short, stiff spikes for extra grip. The Osprey’s nostrils shut tight as it hits the water. Then as it ascends, it shakes itself off, shedding water easily thanks to its oily feathers. In fact, it’s the only raptor that has this oily plumage. Its long, slender, arched wings help the Osprey get clear of the water too, as it takes flight with the fish’s head facing the front — the most aerodynamically efficient position.

This Osprey we see today — just one species worldwide — has changed little since tens of millions of years ago, when its ancestors diverged onto a unique evolutionary track, distinct from eagles and hawks. Suggesting that over this period, it has remained particularly well suited to its environment. Thanks to these adaptations. [Source: Audubon]

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