OSPREY (Pandion Haliaetus)
The osprey is a dramatic and fascinating creature, it is one of the largest birds of prey and is the only truly aquatic raptor. They are most recognized for their large conspicuous nests, life-long partnerships, and exceptional hunting ability culminating in spectacular aerial dives. The osprey's unique evolutionary adaptations, evident in all aspects of its physiology, set it apart from its closest relatives the eagle and hawk and thus comprises its own taxonomic family, Pandionidae, of which it is the only living member. Characteristically, physiologically, and taxonomically, there really is nothing else quite like an osprey.
Ospreys have oily feathers, the likes of which are found on most aquatic birds such as cormorants, gulls, and anhingas, but are not found on any other bird of prey. This distinct feature of their plumage allows them to fully submerge into water, something that would drown any other eagle or hawk, including those that also prey on fish. Their feet are equipped with grooved talon pads and a reversible outer toe which allows them to grab and hold slippery fish with two toes on each side of their prey's wriggling body. A wingspan of up to two meters, enormous for their body size, provides the extra power necessary to lift their own weight along with their prey's out from under the surface. Nostrils with closeable valves, and eyes capable of spotting a fish below the surface from altitudes of up to 150 feet, complete the package of a fishing machine, in the form of a fully submersible bird.
The most remarkable virtue of the osprey is without doubt its versatility and resilience as a species. Whether it be in response to climate conditions, geographic location, food source variations, or any other human-related or environmental hazards, ospreys have proven time and time again that they embody the true essence of adaptability. They are global citizens; ospreys are found on every continent on Earth with the exception of Antarctica. Finding food in freshwater rivers, lakes, or estuaries, as well as all the saltwater oceans and seas that cover over 70% of the globe, a simple fact remains: wherever there is water, there are osprey.
Their global distribution is in part attributed to their diet. Ospreys eat fish - plain and simple. If it hangs out by the surface it is fair game. With extraordinary digestive acids capable of turning scale, bone, and fin into a uniform white paste, they can and do eat all manner of fish. The osprey is the only raptor in the world to prey solely upon live fish, and will take anything that spends the majority of its time in the surface depths of up to three feet which makes up its "kill zone."
Another contribution to their global distribution is their sheer durability. Unfazed by wind, rain, and even snow, ospreys are capable of enduring and thriving in extreme climate conditions and variability. The only hindrance to their survival is the freezing of their fishing water, essentially cutting them off from their food source. Therefore, after their Summer breeding season is complete, ospreys all over the world undertake migrations of thousands of miles to warmer climates. Osprey pairs will make these epic journeys separately, and will return to re-unite at their previous nest site the following year, often arriving on the same or within several days of one another.
Most notable is their resilience to increasing human development. Ospreys build enormous nests of sticks, and their engineering marvels once only common on the tops of bare trees, are now seen on top of billboard signs, telephone polls, dock pylons, marine channel markers, and essentially anything else with access to a water source. They are remarkably tolerant of human presence, and have rebounded well from the DDT pesticide usage that almost annihilated the entire raptor population of North America in the 1970's. The air-to-sea projectile that is a hunting osprey is a sight to behold, and is now fortunately a common one along America's coastlines and rivers.