Bird Identification – American Osprey – Fish Hawk
A pair of these beautiful big hawks, that had nested year after year in the top of a tall pine tree on the Manasquan River, New Jersey, were great pets in that region. An old fisherman of Barnegat Bay told me that when he was hauling in his seine one day, he saw the male osprey strike the water with a splash, struggle an instant with a great fish that had been following his net, and disappear below the waves, never to rise again. The bird more than met his match that time. The fish was far larger than he expected, so powerful that it easily dragged him under, once his talons were imbedded in the fish’s flesh. For the rest of the summer the widowed osprey always stayed about when the fisherman hauled his net on the beach, and bore away to her nest the worthless fish he left in it for her special benefit. But after rearing her family—a prolonged process for all the hawks, eagles, and owls—she never returned to the neighbourhood. Perhaps old associations were too painful; perhaps she was shot on her way South that winter; or perhaps she took another mate with more sense and less greed, who preferred to reside elsewhere.
As you may imagine, fish hawks always live near water. In summer they frequent the inlets along the Atlantic coast, but over inland lakes and rivers also, many fly back and forth. You may know by their larger size—they are almost two feet long—and by their slow flight that they are not the winter gulls. Their dusky backs and white under parts harmonise well with the marine picture, North or South. Their plumage contains more white than that of any other hawk. No matter how foggy the day or how quietly the diving osprey may splash to catch his fish dinner, any bald-headed eagle in the vicinity is sure to detect him in the act of seizing it, and then to relieve him of it instantly.