This edited article about birds originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.
Osprey with fish
High above the water circles the osprey, master fisherman of the birds of prey. Suddenly, as his next meal glints in the water far below, his wings close and he rockets down, striking the sea with a resounding splash which entirely conceals him as he sinks his sharp talons into the doomed fish.
Coming up again the handsome, two-foot long bird holds the fish head foremost. If it is not too big he eats it in flight; otherwise he takes it to his favourite perch.
Any fisherman’s life is a tough one, and the osprey is no exception. If he has wrongly judged the fish he has attacked and picked one that is too big he can be drawn under water and drowned. For his roughly scaled feet with their long, sharp, curved claws, are traps from which no fish can escape, and the osprey will not let go once he has sunk them into his prey.
Sometimes called the fishing-hawk, the majestic osprey is an eagle-sized, sharp-billed bird that makes its home in tropical and temperate regions of the world. Although it prefers coastal waters it is also found along the edges of rivers and lakes.
Like many other birds of prey ospreys seem to develop a real affection for one locality, to which they will return year after year.
The nest they build is indeed a wonder of nature. Both male and female take part in the building, and in America the chosen site is usually a tree, often a dead one, while in Europe a cliff edge, or even a ruined building, will suffice if necessary.
Because the birds return each year to the same site and add to the nest it becomes bigger and bigger until it is a huge, ramshackle bundle of sticks perhaps six feet deep and five to six feet wide.
During this time the “lodgers” have moved in.
Most frequent of these in the American-based osprey’s roomy “apartment” is a pair of black-crowned night herons, who move in and build their nest within the ospreys’, a foot or two under the main section.
The night herons know that this site gives them a double-edged benefit. Firstly, they have an extra roof over their heads without the labour of having to build it, and secondly the fierce ospreys, who have no natural enemies except for man, keep away other predatory birds by their presence on the “top floor.”
The night herons might be joined by a pair of purple grackles, wrens or sparrows. They burrow into the side of the pile of sticks virtually under the beaks of the ospreys, who pay no attention to their guests.
For them there is a third benefit in store. When the ospreys leave their “lodgers” forage in their nest for any tit-bits left over from the osprey’s meals.
The osprey lays two or three, or rarely, four, brown splotched eggs which are incubated mostly by the female. The nestlings are born after five weeks, and for the seven weeks after that the role of father osprey as fisherman to his family becomes an arduous one.
The male and the female birds have similar plumage, with the lower parts, neck and head chiefly white and the back and long pointed wings chiefly dark brown. The chest is marked with a pale brown band and the head is usually ornamented with a short crest. The female is slightly larger than the male – she being about two feet long and he being about twenty inches.
Ospreys are wonderfully graceful birds to watch in flight, with extensive soaring and wheeling on wings that are slightly crooked.
Unhappily, the chances of seeing them in Britain are extremely remote. In the last century they were frequent visitors to Scotland until hunters drove them away.