By Kris Mainland White.
There is just something about the way it flies, that bird cruising overhead. You think it’s a gull, but the beat of its wings, and the angular, “M” silhouette cause you pause. If the bird is close enough, the dominant dark color, snowy underbelly and hooked black beak tell you it’s not a gull, but an Osprey! This is the fishing hawk, and a cool bird of prey found along the Gaviota Coast.
You can spot the Osprey in flight, or perched near the sea in a tree or on a line. From there, it can take flight to pluck its prey, almost exclusively fish, from the water and rotate it so that the fish is aerodynamically arranged in its talons. The Osprey is somewhat unusual as a single species of a land-based bird found so widely distributed. From Scandinavia to Australia, Alaska to Florida to Argentina, the Osprey is found nearly everywhere except Antarctica. There are only a few other single, land-based species so widely distributed.
For those who struggle to distinguish between our feathered brethren, there are some things to watch for. The Osprey is slightly bigger and heavier than a Western Gull, which is the common gull around the Gaviota Coast. The Osprey is dark brown on top, and streaked with brown on their white underbelly, and up close, it has a mask across its eyes, and black talons rather than the pink webbed feet of the gull. Its head bears the classic curved beak of a raptor, not the straight one (with dot) of a gull.
Cool Osprey features include nostrils that close on diving, backwards facing barbs on the talons to retain its slippery catch, and dense, oily plumage that prevents water logging. While the Osprey can be prey to the largest raptors like the Golden or Bald eagle, kleptoparasitism (a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey from another animal) is the more common threat to the Osprey’s survival.
The Osprey fell victim to pesticides in decades past, but have made a substantial recovery. However, they still make Audubon’s list of birds designated as Climate Endangered. These are populations that may face a decrease of their current range by 50% by 2050, if current climate trends continue.
Keep an eye out for the Osprey along the Gaviota Coast, harbors, and county beaches.
See you on the coast!