When I think osprey, I think of our trips to the wilder parts of the South Carolina coast or a trip we took to Florida a few years ago. They were completely extirpated from Ohio in 1935 due to over hunting and probably due to the use of pesticides which decimated apex predators that ate small fish and game that had consumed the pesticides on insects and in the water. I didn’t expect to see them above a lake in my neighborhood. And yet, on a late spring/early summer day recently, I saw a bird hovering above that lake ignoring a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) that was attempting to drive it off as it peered into the lake. It was probably 50 feet in the air. And then it dropped like a stone, feet first. I was so unprepared I didn’t get a shot of the dive. I was able to get a before shot and an after shot with the osprey carrying off the rather large fish it pulled from the lake. I was shocked it could dive into the lake from so high. The lakes here are not that deep.
Initially, I thought I might be looking at a bald eagle. They live and hunt on Hoover, and from time-to-time I’ve seen them fly over. But several features gave away the osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The feet first attack into water is unique. It lacks the pure white head and tail feathers of the eagle. The head IS white from underneath, but it has prominent “side burns” of black. And the osprey’s tail is completely dark brown or black depending on the light. Also, the osprey has a crest on the back of its head formed by feathers. These give it sort of a flat-headed appearance. The Osprey is a large bird with a 4.5-6 ft. wingspan depending on the individual. They begin life with red eyes which transition to yellow as they mature into adults.
The osprey reintroduction to Ohio in 1996 has been very successful. There were 10 nests in 2000, 92 nests in 2011 according to the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Ohio and they appear to be continuing to expand. Keep your eyes open for this majestic bird of prey.