Ospreys In Love (In Downtown)


Ah, ze osprey. These gorgeous little birds of prey attract their mates by using French accents. No really, they do. I swear!

Okay so ospreys don’t use French accents; in fact the dynamics of mate selection and pair bonding in these raptors is not well understood. Are the females impressed by nest construction? Prowess in catching fish? Size of the talons?

Which makes for a cool aside in fact. Ospreys have very powerful feet, like all true raptors. But in addition to talons that are several inches long they have spines on the bases of their feet that work like the cleats that athletes use. These spicules don’t give the birds traction on playing fields though. They help them to hang on to their meals of somewhat slimey fish.

How do they catch such fish? By literally dropping out of the sky and hurtling towards the water at breakneck speeds to slam into the unsuspecting fish. The feeling of free-fall you experience on a roller coaster is what ospreys go through every time they hunt down a meal. They’re the stunt junkies of the Floridian skies.

Its so much more impressive than the dives of brown pelicans. (Speaking of which, brown pelicans are the only diving pelicans. Isn’t that strange? I thought they all dove for their meals!)

I snapped this photo a while back along the Indian River Lagoon system, an estuary where fish abound and ospreys are easily spotted. But lately I’ve been shocked and surprised to find ospreys far into the interior of the state, even in downtown Orlando!

The birds will perch along the corridors of major highways like the 408 and the 417 and hunt at the edges of the large lakes in the area such as Lake Eola.  In fact I was driving home two days ago and saw an osprey with a huge fish in its clutches and saw the bird make some enormously athletic navigational corrections as the fish squirmed and twisted during the flight. 

Its always a shock to me to see wildlife out in areas of high urban development and surrounded by noise and human activity. It really makes you wonder just how adaptable some species truly are and how our culture will impact – or provide opportunities – for such animals in the future. 

Still, I worry about the downtown ospreys.  Florida’s landscapers love their fertilizer and other chemicals and it doesn’t take much to offset the delicate balance of the natural lakes in our area.  I wonder, if the lakes get unhealthy, if the raptors will migrate out to the coasts.  (Or, even better, if the downtown ospreys actually roost and nest downtown… or if they return to the coastline every night after hunting in the central lakes.)