Swiveling toes, that’s the adaptation that helps make the osprey a very successful fisher-bird. Bald eagles are reportedly only successful on about 10% of their dives for dinner, but ospreys catch a meal 90% of the time, that’s 9 in 10 dives! Outer toes swivel around to grasp and hold a struggling fish, and ospreys usually only have to worry more about marauding eagles or harassing gulls as they get their fish a shore-side perch. However, ospreys can’t swim, so occasionally they grab a fish that is too big, and once hooked, the fish swims downward towards escape and drowns the talon-locked bird.
Look for a swept-back “V” wing profile and black elbow patches, a salt-and-pepper color, dark above and light below – and a tail with alternating dark and white bands. Females have a mottled band across their chests and six-foot wingspans – and they’re larger than males. Listen for an eagle-like plaintive whistle that, once learned, will swivel your head around to look every time, guaranteed. Since ospreys are mostly fish-eaters, watch for them in coves or bays where salmon run – the still waters help them see what they’re catching.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work can be seen in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.