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Osprey: Living Big On A Tiny Nesting Platform

Osprey: Living Big On A Tiny Nesting Platform
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My partner and I went to go paddle boarding on Lake Granby, Colorado this past summer. As we tried to find the best place to park and pump up the SUPs, an osprey flew overhead. We followed it to its nest sitting high atop a pole. Mounted on top, a nesting platform created space for two Ospreys to build a home and raise their young. We took this as a sign to paddle from that spot.

We had accidentally slept in, so we did not arrive until just after lunchtime. The Osprey seemed to have just eaten as well and sat in its nest watching some construction workers.

With the Osprey content to sit in its nest, we went for a paddle keeping our eyes peeled for signs that it would begin to hunt. After an hour or so, it did. Flying along the shore, we watched as it would begin to dive and then back off. Once it did dive into the water, but came up with empty talons.

After the paddle, I watched one Osprey fly from the nesting platform to a snag that stood next to the lake. I creeped up on it to watch it search the water for fish from its high perch.

Bird of prey perched on a branch with a partly cloudy blue sky background.
Perched looking for food.

Osprey Vs. DDT

More often than not, I see the Ospreys using these nesting platforms rather than large trees. After Rachel Carson exposed the damaging effects of DDT in Silent Spring, a ban on DDT went into effect. The cascade effects of DDT pollution went from polluted water to contaminated fish to the ospreys eating the chemical-laden fish. As a way to help species like the Osprey recover, conservation efforts focused on building nesting platforms.

The nesting platforms simultaneously help with the loss of habitat as development near waterfront became more and more popular. Like many species faced with habitat encroachment or loss, the Osprey, as a species, are adapting.

If you find yourself near a large lake or river, keep an eye out in the tall trees. Don’t forget to look on the tops of telephone wire looking poles to see if a flat, perpendicular board sits atop it. Chances are, you might see a nest atop one.

Nesting platform with an Osprey in the nest against a blue sky with clouds.
Nesting platform in use.

Here are some facts to help you out:

Family:

Pandionidae

General Characteristics:

  • Large birds, similar to hawks and eagles
  • Hook bill
  • 63 inch wingspan, wings slightly bent creating an “m” shape when flying
  • Mostly white head with a black stripe from the eyes to the back of the head
  • White or slightly cream colored chest, dark brown upper wings
  • Feed by diving into water from high above and catching fish
  • Eggs are a blend of whites and pinks
  • Front talons can turn backward unlike other raptors

Habitat

  • Near lakes, rivers, and coastlines
  • Nests high in trees
  • Recovering populations after DDT was banned and artificial nest platforms

Range

  • On every continent except Antarctica
  • Usually nests in northern hemisphere and migrates to southern US or further south for North American winters
Osprey flying showing the "M" shape with it's wings.
“M” shape of Osprey wings in flight.

Osprey & The Nature Journal

Two page journal spread with photo, sketch, and text about ospreys.
Two-Page Journal Spread for the Osprey.

I was pretty stoked for a journal spread on an Osprey. They’re fun to watch and fun to write about. When I can watch a bird for a longer period of time, my understanding of their behavior increases and so do my field notes. I have watched Ospreys in the past which allowed me to identify this one quickly and focus more on what it did rather than trying to find all of the identifying features immediately. Thus, the field notes can get more extensive when I can watch longer.

Feeling confident, I sketched the outline of the osprey fairly quickly and decided to attempt to capture some of the feathers and their features. I often don’t do this, but I felt I could make a solid attempt with the Osprey pattern. The underwings have a distinctive striping pattern on the primary and secondary wing feathers. The wing lining feathers had a more spotted pattern. On the neck, a line of spots went down to the chest as well. If you’d like a back to the basics on nature journaling, I have a post here.

Since I drew the Osprey flying, I used a photo of it sitting on a branch watching me. This way, the journal could show shape in flight as well as shape perched. I use the Fujifilm Instax Printer for the polaroids.

I anticipate more posts on the Osprey in the future since my partner and I like to stand-up paddle board on lakes where they tend to reside. Stay tuned for more!

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