Published On: Mon, Aug 22nd, 2016

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND- SKY-DANCER: OSPREY

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OSPREY, Pandion haliaetus, Aguila Pescador (Spanish)

OSPREY

OSPREY

MALE SKY DANCER

Osprey sky dances

Osprey sky dances

Sound link of Sky-dancer: https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/4140

Rapid wingbeats

pierce air

to climb

100’

500’

900’+  above

nest site

Screams of exuberance?

Territoriality?

Courtship?

Hovers

Downward dives of M-shaped wings

White belly shines

Arches upward

Levitates

Flutters wings

Swoops down

Rises steeply

Floats

Roller coaster circles

Repeats, repeats, repeats

To descend

Über undulations

of sound and white feather flashes

Down sky staircase

to the female

Sky Dance

During the sky dance high above the nest site, the white feathers underneath the Osprey almost glow like a lighthouse

During the sky dance high above the nest site, the white feathers underneath the Osprey almost glow like a lighthouse

Surely a scientist with a poet’s heart named the territorial/courtship flight of the male osprey above the nest as “sky dance”. Others may name it “fish flight” as the male may dangle a fish in its talons during this aerial performance. Or it could carry a stick or a stake in those mighty claws. His sky writing works because the male knows how to “stake his claim” above his territory. A female awaits his descent to dine on the gift of “flying fish”.

Osprey on perch

Osprey on perch

Typically monogamous the pair build a bulky nest of sticks and sod which can attain 13 feet deep and seven feet wide over several years of use. Defending the nest puts a new meaning in “Stay away from my ‘turf’!” But the Osprey tolerates other species such as grackles, House Wrens, Starlings or English Sparrows who nest in the lower part of its stick-built home.

Adult Osprey on perch with young in nest (photo in USA)

Adult Osprey on perch with young in nest (photo in USA)

Telephone poles, channel markers, radio towers, manmade platforms, and trees become suitable nest sites. When built in pine trees, one theory indicates the pines may produce an insecticide, a nice advantage for nesting birds.

Osprey seems curious about my camera or me (photo in USA)

Osprey seems curious about my camera or me (photo in USA)

Sky dancing and courtship continue as the osprey pair may mate 15-20 times a day for three weeks. She even cheers him when he brings her food to the nest with a “chir-chir-chir” call.

I guess it’s eat, osprey, love.

Often called “fish hawk,” the Osprey preys mainly on live fish near the water’s surface. It dives feet first from a branch or the air into the first yard or so of water. With two toes forward and two backward on each foot, spine-covered toe pads help hold slippery fish. This bird of prey aligns the fish head first for an aerodynamic flight to a perch where it holds down the just caught sushi with its impressive “fish hooks” and tears the sushi apart with its hooked bill. After a meal or a dive, it’s time to air dry the feathers.

Osprey talons are adapted for catching fish while the hooked bill can tear apart prey

Osprey talons are adapted for catching fish while the hooked bill can tear apart prey

Osprey air dries wet plumage after a dive

Osprey air dries wet plumage after a dive

Another call: https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/4141

Although found worldwide along coasts, lakes, and rivers, in the Yucatan the Osprey is a year round resident while the northern species becomes a winter visitor. Those that live permanently in the Yucatan have a whiter head than the migrant ospreys. By the way, the northern population winters to Central and South America. It seems all sky dance with their four-six foot wingspan.

Sky Dancer

Sky Dancer

EXPLORE NATURE FOR YOUR OWN SKY DANCE!

 

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species:  Life Histories of Birds of Prey, Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior, Vol 1, Sal a Pajarear Yucatan Guia de Aves, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Lives of North American Birds, /https://www.allaboutbirds.org/, Birder/s Handbook, http://test.birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/osprey/introduction, Peter Paul and Byrl J Kellogg https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/4140 and 4141, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/osprey

 

Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

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