Ospreys return to a land where they thrive: Wicomico

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Chuck Taylor Photo


As Mark Twain humorously observed, “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.”

Local residents relate to the humor, but can be confident spring is imminent because osprey are returning, trickling back to the Shore during the past two weeks.

Eventually there will be a couple thousand on the Shore, quite possibly their favorite place, said Dave Brinker, an ecologist for the Wildlife and Heritage Service, a branch of the Department of Natural Resources, based in Annapolis.

“The Chesapeake Bay system, the Delmarva-Chesapeake coastal bays, are the largest and densest osprey population in the world. Where aquatic resources are not scattered, they are very populous,” Brinker said.

“They are coming back from warmer climates. They are big, so they’re easy to see.  If you have a quiet boat dock that is unused, they might nest right there.  You might have one  nest on a post surrounded by water. They nest in duck blinds. In Annapolis, every summer, there are a few people who end up with an osprey nest on their sailboats, maybe up on the mast,” he said.

With a wingspan of three feet or more, the osprey’s name is derived from Medieval Latin word for “bird of prey.”

They eat mainly fish, but also birds, mice and snakes, Brinker said.

The birds like to be high, and can fly hundreds of feet above ground, often making a nest in a dead tree or on top of a telecommunications tower.

“They love cell phone towers,” Brinker said.

The female has a hooked black bill, bright yellow eyes and a dark pattern against white, forming necklace-like markings. When they fly, their wings are bowed, making their bodies look like the letter “M.”

No longer endangered, as they were when the pesticide DDT was commonly used, osprey dislike cold weather and head for South America in winter, explained Ellen Lawler, biology professor at Salisbury University.

Their eggs hatch in early summer and the female stays on the nest while the male searches for food.

The commonly live 10 years, although the oldest known lived to be 25, she said.

Osprey, native to this area, have feet designed to grasp and hold slippery fish as they fly. When they hunt, they hover over water and dive in when they see prey.

“They are a very neat bird. Osprey return in March and are an integral sign of spring. I’ve seen a few already. If the birds survive, they will return to the same place they nested before. It seems they will come back,” Lawler said.

“We used to have one on the radio tower at Caruthers Hall” on the SU campus, before the building was demolished, she said.

They also settle on channel markers, dead trees with large branches and atop light fixtures. Nature lovers look for them and, according to legend, underwater populations revere them.

It was once believed fish were so mesmerized by osprey, they surrendered, turning belly up at the sight of one. William Shakespeare, in his play “Coriolanus,” referred to it, writing, “I think he’ll be to Rome, as is the osprey to the fish, who takes it, by sovereignty of nature.”

“They are interesting,” Brinker said.

“They don’t shy away from people. People like to watch wildlife and osprey are fun to watch.”

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