Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - wiki
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[Photo] A North American Osprey Pandion haliaetus carolinensis preparing to dive. Photographed at Kennedy Space Center by NASA.
The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), also known colloquially as fishhawk, seahawk or fish eagle, is a medium-large fish-eating bird of prey. It is found on all continents except Antarctica although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant. It is widely distributed because it tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location which is near a body of water and provides an adequate food supply. It is divided into four similar subspecies.
Because the Osprey has many unique characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genus, Pandion, and family, Pandionidae. It is a medium-sized raptor, reaching 60 cm (24 in) in length with a 1.8 m (6 ft) wingspan. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly whitish on the head and underparts, with a brownish eyepatch and wings.
As its other common names suggest, the Osprey's diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It has evolved particular physical characteristics, and exhibits some unique behaviours, to assist in hunting and catching its prey.
The Osprey was one of the many species described by Carolus Linnaeus in his 18th century work, Systema Naturae; he named it Falco haliaeetus. The genus Pandion was described by the French zoologist Marie Jules C??sar Lelorgne de Savigny in 1809.
The Osprey differs in several respects from other diurnal birds of prey. Its toes are of equal length, its tarsi are reticulated, and its talons are rounded, rather than grooved. The Osprey is the only raptor whose outer toe is reversible, allowing it to grasp its prey with two toes in front. It has always presented something of a riddle to taxonomists. Here it is treated as the sole member of the family Pandionidae, and the family listed in its traditional place as part of the order Falconiformes. Other schemes place it alongside the hawks and eagles in the family Accipitridae???which itself can be regarded as making up the bulk of the order Accipitriformes or else be lumped with the Falconidae into Falconiformes. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy has placed it together with the other diurnal raptors in a greatly enlarged Ciconiiformes, but this results in an unnatural paraphyletic classification.
The Osprey is unusual insofar as a single species occurs nearly worldwide. Even the few subspecies are not unequivocally separable. There are four generally recognised subspecies, although differences are small, and ITIS only lists the first two.
P. h. haliaetus (Linnaeus, 1758), Eurasia.
P. h. carolinensis (Gmelin, 1788), North America. This form is larger, darker bodied and has a paler breast than nominate haliaetus.
P. h. ridgwayi (Maynard, 1887), Caribbean islands. This form has a very pale head and breast compared to nominate haliaetus, with only a weak eye mask. It is non-migratory. Its scientific name commemorates American ornithologist Robert Ridgway.
P. h. cristatus (Vieillot, 1816), coastline and some large rivers of Australia and Tasmania. The smallest subspecies, also non-migratory.
The genus name Pandion is after the legendary Greek king Pandion, a mythological king of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, who was transformed into an eagle. The specific epithet haliaetus is derived from the Greek αλι??ετο?? "sea-eagle/osprey".
The origins of osprey are obscure; the word itself was first recorded around 1460, derived via the Anglo-french ospriet and the Medieval Latin avis prede "bird of prey," from the Latin avis praedæ though the Oxford English Dictionary notes a connection with the Latin ossifraga or "bone breaker" of Pliny the Elder. However, this term referred to the Lammergeier.
The Osprey is 1400-2000 grams (3-4.4 lb) and 52-60 centimetres (20.5-24 in) long with a 150-180 cm (5-5.9 ft) wingspan. The upperparts are a deep, glossy brown, while the breast is white and sometimes streaked with brown, and the underparts are pure white. The head is white with a dark mask across the eyes,reaching to the sides of the neck. The irises of the eyes are golden to brown. The bill is black, with a blue cere, and the feet are white with black talons. A short tail and long, narrow wings with four long "finger" feathers (and a shorter fifth) give it a very distinctive appearance.
The sexes appear fairly similar, but the adult male can be distinguished from the female by its slimmer body and narrower wings. Also, the breast band is weaker than that of the female, or is non-existent, and the underwing coverts are more uniformly pale. It is straightforward to determine the sex of breeding pair, but harder with individual birds.
The juvenile Osprey is readily identified by buff fringes to the upperpart plumage, buff tone to the underparts, and streaked crown. By spring, barring on the underwings and flight feathers is a better indicator of a young bird, due to wear on the upperparts.
In flight, the Osprey has arched wings and drooping "hands", giving it a diagnostic gull-like appearance. The call is a series of sharp whistles, cheep, cheep, or yewk, yewk. Near the nest, a frenzied cheereek!
Distribution and habitat
The Osprey has a worldwide distribution. It is found in temperate and tropical regions of all continents except Antarctica. In North America it breeds from Alaska and Newfoundland south to the Gulf Coast and Florida, wintering further south from the southern United States through to Argentina. The Osprey is found throughout Europe north into Scandinavia and Scotland, though not Iceland, in summer and wintering in North Africa. In Australia it is sedentary and found around the coastline, though only a non-breeding visitor to eastern Victoria and Tasmania. It is an uncommon to fairly common winter visitor to all parts of Southeast Asia including Myanmar through to Indochina and southern China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The Osprey is highly successful due to its tolerance of a wide range of habitats. It may nest in any location which is near a body of water and which provides safety and an abundance of fish. Nests are generally found within 3 to 5 km of a body of water, which may be a salt marsh, mangrove swamp, cypress swamp, lake, bog, reservoir or river. Even during migration, Ospreys stay close to water, often following river valleys.
Fish comprise almost the whole (99%) of the Osprey's diet. It typically takes fish weighing 150???300 g (5.3-10 oz) and about 25???35 cm (10-12 in) in length, but the weight can range from 50 to 2000 g (1.7-68 oz). Prey is first sighted when the Osprey is 10-40 m above the water, after which the bird hovers momentarily then plunges feet first into the water. It is able to dive to a depth of 1 meter (3.3 ft). The angle of entry into the water varies with the nature of the prey; steeper, slower dives are used when pursuing deeper, slow-moving fish, while long, quick dives are used for faster surface fish. After catching the fish considerable effort is needed to get airborne again. As it rises back into flight the fish is turned head-forward to reduce drag.
The Osprey is particularly well adapted to this diet, with reversible outer toes, closable nostrils to keep out water during dives, and backwards facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch. The 'barbed' talons are such effective tools for grasping fish that, on occasion, an Osprey may be unable to release a fish that is heavier than expected. This can cause the Osprey to be pulled into the water, where it may either swim to safety or succumb to hypothermia and drown (fish heavier than the Osprey itself are hazardous in this way). Rarely, the Osprey may prey on other wetland animals, such as aquatic rodents, salamanders, other birds, and reptiles as large as young alligators.
The Osprey breeds by freshwater lakes, and sometimes on coastal brackish waters. Rocky outcrops just offshore are used in Rottnest Island off the coast of Western Australia, where there are 14 or so similar nesting sites of which 5-7 are used in any one year. Many are renovated each season and some have been used for 70 years. The nest is a large heap of sticks, driftwood and seaweed built in forks of trees, rocky outcrops, telephone poles, artificial platforms or offshore islets. Generally Ospreys reach sexual maturity and begin breeding around age 3-4 years, though in some regions with high Osprey densities, such as Chesapeake Bay in the USA, they may not start breeding until five to seven years old, and there may be a shortage of suitable tall structures. If there are no nesting sites available, young Ospreys may be forced to delay breeding. To ease this problem, posts may be erected to provide more sites suitable for nest building.
Ospreys usually mate for life. In spring the pair begins a five-month period of partnership to raise their young. The female lays 2???4 eggs within a month, and relies on the size of the nest to help conserve heat. The eggs are whitish with bold splotches of reddish-brown and are about 62 x 45 mm (2.4 x 1.8 in) and weigh about 65 g (2.4 oz). The eggs are incubated for about 5 weeks to hatching.
The newly-hatched chicks weigh only 50???60 g (2 oz), but fledge within eight weeks. When food is scarce, the first chicks to hatch are most likely to survive. The typical lifespan is 20???25 years. Bubo owls and Bald Eagles (and possibly other eagles of comparable size) are the only major predators of both nests and adults. Ospreys have rarely been known to be preyed on by crocodiles when they dive into the water.
The breeding season varies according to latitude; spring (September-October) in southern Australia, April to July in northern Australia and winter (June-August) in southern Queensland.
European breeders winter in Africa. American and Canadian breeders winter in South America, although some stay in the southernmost USA states such as Florida and California. Australasian Ospreys tend not to migrate.
Osprey populations declined drastically in many areas in the 1950s and 1960s; this appeared to be in part due to the toxic effects of insecticides such as DDT on reproduction. Possibly because of the banning of DDT in many countries in the early 1970s, together with reduced persecution, the Osprey, as well as other affected bird of prey species have made significant recoveries.
Though not a national icon anywhere, the Osprey is the official bird of Nova Scotia in Canada and S??dermanland in Sweden. In sport, it is the official mascot and team name for the Seattle Seahawks (an American football team based in the Pacific Northwest, using one of the Osprey's vernacular names), the Ospreys (the Neath and Swansea regional Welsh Rugby Union team in South Wales, UK) and the Missoula Osprey (a Minor League Baseball team in the U.S.). It is also the mascot for a number of American universities, including St. Mary's College of Maryland, Salve Regina University, the University of North Florida, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The bird has been depicted on the 1986 series Canadian $10 note, and has had an airplane (the American V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft) named after it.
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