Osprey enjoy fishing in New Mexico's waters - Albuquerque Journal

Osprey enjoy fishing in New Mexico’s waters

osprey
Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

The osprey, sometimes referred to as “fish hawk” is a large raptor at 23 inches in length and has a 63 inch wingspan.

It has a slender body, a white underbelly and dark back. The underside of the wings have a distinctive dark patch and the head is white with a dark eye stripe. Osprey are fairly common throughout many areas of North America near open, shallow water such as salt marshes, rivers, ponds and reservoirs.

In New Mexico, osprey are a summer resident and are most often seen near reservoirs along the Rio Grande Valley. One reservoir where I commonly see osprey is Cochiti Lake, north of Albuquerque.

Osprey are the only hawk in North America whose diet consists almost exclusively of live fish. Its feet are designed for hunting fish. They have a reversible outer toe that allows it to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. They also have barbed toe pads that help to better grip slippery fish. Osprey catch fish by diving into the water usually no more than 3 feet below the water’s surface. They are very effective hunters with up to a 70% success rate.

I witnessed the osprey’s skillful hunting when fishing. I caught and released a fish and when I put it back in the water, an osprey swooped down and snatched it before it could swim away. That was an extremely unlucky day for that fish.

During the summer nesting season osprey build a stick nest lined with bark, sod and grasses. The male chooses the nest site which can be on tree tops, crotches between large tree branches, cliffs and often man-made structures such as telephone poles and duck blinds.

On the road to Cochiti Lake reservoir there is an osprey nest on the top of a man-made osprey platform. Many of these platforms have assisted in reestablishing osprey in areas where their populations had decreased.

Osprey eggs hatch at different times. The first chick hatches up to five days prior to the next chick hatching.

Osprey populations were in steep decline in the 1950s to the 1970s. It was determined that pesticides, especially DDT, poisoned the birds and weakened their eggshells which led to high chick mortality.

In 1972, DDT was banned in the United States and the population rebounded, growing 1.9% per year from 1966 to 2019. Continued conservation efforts are needed to keep this unique raptor population healthy for future generations to enjoy.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard.”

 

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