Friday, March 30, 2012

The Eagle and the Osprey

Stuart Florida
N 27 12.86 W 080 15.46

Osprey are marvelous at fishing.  I've blogged about that before.   When the Osprey decides that it is time for dinner, it seldom take him or her more than 15 minutes to catch one big enough to feed the whole family.  

Then they have the problem of flying back to the nest carrying that heavy load of fish.  Sometimes, they have to take it in several legs, stopping to rest.  Sometimes, the fish proves to be too big and too heavy and the bird is forced to drop the fish to avoid crashing.    Their skill is remarkable.  Last year I blogged about an osprey in the Neuse River near New Bern.  He was able to fly two feet above the water and then climb 10 feet just as he approached the nest high on a piling.  The eight foot climb bled off airspeed so that the bird stalled his flight just inches above the nest, and dropped gently on target.  Awesome skill.

Eagles too catch fish, and among them the bald eagle is most spectacular.  However, I don't think the eagle's skill matches that of the osprey.  A couple of weeks ago in Boot Key Harbor we witnessed a real life nature drama.   Another boater first spotted it and he cried out for others to watch.

An osprey caught a fish and he was flying back to his nest with it.  A bald eagle spotted this and decided to rob the osprey's fish rather than catch his own.   They flew past us with the osprey doing evasive maneuvers with the eagle about 40 feet behind.    For a few seconds it seemed that the osprey outsmarted the eagle.   He dove down to a level below the mast heights of the numerous sailboats in the mooring field.  The eagle was unwilling to do that so he backed off.   But it didn't last.  Soon they were past the mooring field, and the osprey lost its cover.  The eagle pressed the attack.  When the eagle closed to within 15 feet of the osprey, the osprey dropped the fish.  The eagle dove and retrieved the fish from the water before it sank.

We felt privileged to witness the little drama.  Now my awe of the osprey's skills is even more.  In addition to it's flying and fishing skills, it must have been able to look over its shoulder to see what the eagle was doing behind.  That is truly amazing.


  1. Awesome. I witnessed the same thing on the Sacandaga behind Scout Island, only it was a fish hawk with the fish and an immature bald eagle after it. The hawk dropped the fish and the eagle tucked in his wings and dove after it. Just as the fish hit the water, the eagle spread his wings, leveled off just above the water, and snatched up the fish with both talons. It was something to see, something worthy of a National Geographic documentary.

    Very cool, Dick.

  2. I've witnessed the same. Ben Franklin argued against having the Bald Eagle as our national symbol because of it's less than honorable habits of stealing and scavanging. His vote was for the wild American Turkey, apparently they are very smart birds.
    Also notice how the osprey carries it's fish--aerodynamically, like a torpedo. A "fish hawk" or sea hawk is an osprey.


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