There is a small and very ancient city of Skopin in the Ryazan region, whose coat of arms and flag is decorated with a flying eagle. And this is not just an abstract silhouette of a bird of prey, but an exact image of an osprey - one of the most interesting representatives of the hawk order.
In ancient Russia, "osprey" was called smart, savvy, economical owners who deserve trust. This word was given to a bird that was admired, gave a name to the city, and even the Russian princes Skopin-Shuisky wished to have this remarkable word in their surname.
What is so unusual about a bird that went down in history with such a significant name? Every ornithologist who has studied the life of the osprey will consider such a question an insult, because this bird is unique to everyone: the features of its structure, habitat and nutrition.
Osprey male in flight over the nest.
What does an osprey look like
Osprey belongs to the Skopin family, which includes 1 genus with a single species. If you know what the osprey looks like, it is no longer possible to confuse the bird with other representatives of the hawk.
Osprey are large carnivores, growing up to 55-58 cm in length. Females are heavier than males, their body weight ranges from 1.6 to 2 kg, males usually weigh from 1.2 to 1.6 kg. The average wingspan of an osprey reaches 145-170 cm, in females this figure is 10% more.
The osprey's wings and upper body are dark brown, the head, neck, chest and belly are pure white. A characteristic feature of the color is a speckled necklace around the neck, clearly visible in the photo of the osprey, and a dark brown stripe on both sides of the head, extending from the beak through the eye and descending to the neck.
The beak of the osprey is coal-black, the wax and limbs are lead-gray. Young osprey acquire an adult color at the age of one and a half years, at the same time their red eyes turn yellow. However, even until then, they look almost like adults, but with a less bright necklace and some mottling of plumage.
One of the distinguishing features of the osprey is its wings, which are well arched at the wrist joint. But the main feature of the osprey is long fingers with very strong, convex and strongly curved claws, perfectly adapted for hunting. The backward-facing outer finger serves as an excellent tool for holding down slippery fish, the osprey's primary power source.
Scientists distinguish 4 subspecies of the osprey, representatives of which have common morphological characteristics, but differ in size and color depending on the habitat.
Where do the osprey live
Another amazing feature of predators is their vast range, covering both hemispheres, with the exception of Antarctica.
The inhabitants of the tropical and subtropical zones are the smallest and sedentary. Birds, common in temperate latitudes, are larger and darker in color, they spend winter in hot countries, and in spring they migrate back to their nesting sites.
Throughout their range, osprey are distributed extremely unevenly and it is not possible to accurately calculate the population size. Osprey is not listed in the International Red Data Book and is considered the species of least concern. However, in Russia and Belarus, predators are rare, therefore, they are listed in the Red Data Books, and in Finland, persons who killed osprey are fined 1692 euros.
Osprey leads a solitary lifestyle outside the mating season. These predators are not conflicting and do not differ in territoriality. They always settle near water bodies - lakes, rivers and reservoirs, rich in fish - their main and practically only menu.
Osprey nutritional features
Due to the fish's predilection for fish, the bird is often called a fish or river eagle. Moreover, they do not differ in legibility and willingly eat any fish that they can catch. Other bird species, reptiles, amphibians and rodents, make up about 1% of the osprey's diet. Osprey living in hot countries hunt even young alligators.
Predators rarely attack from an ambush, preferring to hover above the water surface at a height of 10 to 40 m. Noticing a potential prey, the osprey descends in a characteristic pose with long wings extended back and strong paws protruding forward. It looks great in the osprey photo. The feathered predator rapidly plunges its deadly claws into the water leaving the fish no chance.
Osprey during the attack.
A sharp, almost horizontal flap of the wings and the osprey soars in a halo of spray with its prey tightly clenched in its claws. Interestingly, to enhance aerodynamics, the predator turns the fish headfirst in flight. The strength of the osprey is striking: some predators are able to lift fish weighing up to 2 kg from the water, which is almost identical to the bird's own weight.
Among the hawks, there are other fish lovers - eagles. However, their method of obtaining food is different: for example, a bald eagle grabs prey at the very surface of the water and never wets feathers. Osprey, on the other hand, dives freely under the water thanks to the greasy structure of feathers, which repels water well.
Special leathery valves that close the nostrils during diving help the bird not choke. The predator looks amazing after swimming, shaking off the water like a wet dog. The osprey begins to eat its prey from the head, the remains are either thrown away or carried to the nest.
The mating season of these birds depends on the range. Sedentary populations breed from December to March, migratory ones prepare for breeding in April and May.
The males are the first to fly to the nesting sites and, while waiting for the females, perform intricate pirouettes in the sky, announcing their arrival and scaring off the neighbors.
A female osprey plucked leaves from a nearby tree for a nest tray.
Most ospreys are monogamous and mate for life. However, with a high density of nesting sites, the male is able to feed and protect two females, although the first nest remains his priority.
Nesting sites are always located near water bodies, but in search of food for himself and the female, the male moves away from the nest at a distance of up to 14 km. The nest of an osprey is very close to the neighboring one, at a distance of about 100 m, and sometimes the interval between nests is several km.
The nest can be built on a rocky cliff, at a fork in the branches of a dead tree, on an island in a lake, or even on an old buoy. Both parents are engaged in the search for building material, however, it is mainly the female who builds the nest. She arranges twigs, holding them together with stems of grasses and algae, and also uses everything that can be found at the bottom of the reservoir, such as plastic bags and pieces of fishing line.
Sometimes a couple uses the nest from season to season, making sure to complete and renew it. When the nest is ready, the responsibilities of the future parents are separated.
At intervals of 1-2 days, the female lays from 2 to 4 white eggs with brownish-red specks. Both parents incubate the clutch for about 40 days, but even when the female remains in the nest, the caring husband brings part of his prey to the nest. And if he has two nests in his care, he manages to feed both females.
Chicks hatch in the same order that the eggs were laid. Newborns are covered with light white fluff and for the first 10 days of life the female warms them and protects them from bad weather, the male brings food at this time. To feed the female and offspring, he needs to catch at least 3-10 fish weighing about 100 g each. The catch is carefully cut into pieces and fed to the chicks. If the year is hungry and there is not enough food, the chicks that hatch first survive.