OSPREY: Oakland County’s Amazing Fish Hawk!

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are experiencing resurgence in Oakland County.  The comeback story of these amazing raptors – they dive into shallow water to catch fish – is perhaps nature’s finest salute to the Wilder Side of Oakland County, and the habitat protection efforts of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).

The story begins back in 1972, when the Environmental Protection Agency banned the deadly insecticide DDT; before this ban, the osprey population was dire. Twenty-six years after the ban, the MDNR decided to re-introduce osprey to the lower half of Michigan. And now, the osprey population is growing at a healthy rate.

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A juvenile osprey peers out of the nest.

Back in 1988, the MDNR instituted a hacking program at Kensington Metropark.  Hacking involves placing male osprey chicks (removed from active nests in northern Michigan) in special elevated structures above a water source. The young birds are then fed through a partition and cared for by volunteers. As they grow, the osprey imprint on the area and after a seasonal migration, the males find mates and returned to the same area where the hacking took place.

The hacking program was quite successful, and ended in 2008. Prior to its start, there were no ospreys nesting in Oakland County. Wildlife biologist Julie Oakes of the MDNR confirms that as of July 2014, Oakland County has nine active osprey nests; all but one are located high up on cell towers.  One of those cell tower nesting sites is a few seconds flight from Highland Oaks County Park, an Oakland County Park offering ideal osprey fishing grounds at the glacially created Spring Lake.

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Osprey feeding on a freshly caught bass high up in cell tower.


OSPRERY FACTS FROM CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY  (via www.AllAboutBirds.org )

  • An osprey may migrate more than 160,000 miles during its 15-20 year life span.
  • Ospreys have a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp fish with two toes in front and two toes behind.
  • Barbed pads on the soles of the bird’s feet help them grip slippery fish.
  • The osprey is the only hawk in North America that eats almost exclusively live fish.
  • Ospreys take readily to man-made structures, including cell towers if near good habitat.
  • When flying with prey in grip, osprey line up its catch head-first for less wind resistance.

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The increased presences of osprey are a tribute to the efforts of park managers throughout Oakland County and a new sense of responsibility to protect wild lands and lakes.

Ospreys are not able to dive more than three feet beneath the surface of the water and tend to gravitate towards shallow, quiet lakes for their hunting expeditions.  Oakland County is rich with these types of lakes, and sightings of these beautiful birds are no longer rare occurrences at Addison Oaks, Highland Oaks, Independence Oaks and Rose Oaks County Parks. These magnificent birds of prey, with their five- foot wing spans, search for fish by circling over relatively shallow water. When a fish is visible, one of the greatest dramas of the Wilder Side of Oakland County unfolds in lightning-fast fashion.

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A professional cell tower climber at work with the Michigan DNR, as an adult osprey hovers above the nest.

Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Oakland County Parks Nature Education Writer. www.DestinationOakland.comSchechterj@oakgov.com

SPECIAL NOTE:  All photos were shot at different sites in Oakland County, while the author worked with officials from the Michigan DNR on various osprey banding projects.

10 thoughts on “OSPREY: Oakland County’s Amazing Fish Hawk!

  1. […] Osprey, the fish-eating raptors of Oakland County, winged south weeks ago. They overwinter in the Florida Keys, Cuba, the Caribbean and deep into Central and South America. They serve as a reminder that birds know no borders. Central America is the destination for the nectar-sipping Ruby-throated hummingbird, the tiniest bird of Oakland County. The journey is an amazing feat for a bird that weighs just 1/8 of an ounce with the ability to cross the Gulf of Mexico without refueling. The osprey and hummingbird have no choice but to depart for warmer climates, not because it’s getting cold, but because their food sources will be unavailable until next spring.  […]

  2. […] Osprey and Bald Eagles visit the shallows in search of fresh fish. On sunny days hikers may spot northern water snakes near the shorelines. Last year I had the good fortune to witness a northern water snake entering a wire mesh fish basket in attempt to share a meal of bluegill at a park fishing pier. And Michigan’s only venomous snake, the massasauga rattlesnake is very much at home at Seven Lakes, but this shy and reclusive creature is rarely seen. What is always seen, are families having fun at this peaceful and pleasant Michigan state park harboring six lakes on the wilder side of Oakland County. […]

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