Monday, January 7, 2008

Osprey on Ambergris Caye Belize

While trying to decide on the bird of the week I read about a candidate on the island called an osprey. Tired of researching and trying to choose, I got in my boat and headed north on the island. In passing Tres Cocos I saw from a distance one bird among the many silhouettes over the shore, laboriously flapping its wings in a hover. Fast flaps of long wings designed to glide caught my eye, and as I got closer I saw its neck bent at a right angle to its body, focusing on some aquatic prey about 100 feet below in the water. Just as I felt my boat's closeness to the bird's target area might make it abort and fly away, it suddenly plummeted, raising talons and throwing wings back. This rocketing fisherman snatched dinner in a big splash. The Bonefish wiggled and fought as the osprey recovered from the water and became airborne again. Then as if was annoyed by the fish's struggle the bird lowered its sharp beak and stopped the movement of the fish with a strategic shot to the fish's head. With the slippery fish grasped in its long curved claws it flew away.
Decision made!
Ornithologists categorize birds into families, such as the spotted owl, screech owl and horned owl. All have several things in common and belong to a family called Strigidae with 120 members. The blue-tailed hummingbird, the violet-crowned hummingbird and the rufous-tailed all belong to a family called Trochilidae with 320 members. The decision on which family you belong to is made on common traits like flattened faces, forward looking eyes or hooked bills, a lot like human traits. The osprey is said, by some, to be a one of a kind, single member its own unique family called Pandionidae, because of specialized joints in its feet and curved razor talons used for fishing. It seems there is some disagreement in the world of birders over its family tree, whether it's hawks, eagle, falcon or vulture is probably not on the osprey's mind. The osprey is very territorial and claims a few square miles for its hunting and fishing grounds. That's why it appears each cocal up and down the island seems to be home for one pair. Osprey nest in a bulky stick nest placed high in tree tops or platforms of man-made structures like water towers and roof peaks. It uses the same nest year after year.
Sometimes when the water is cloudy from bad weather and the fishing is bad, the osprey will resort to eating snakes and lizards. Its voice is a distinctive, sharp, high pitched and easily recognized, "Keeip".