Encounter with an osprey

September 21, 2018


The osprey, a fish hawk that was nearly wiped out in the U.S. by poisoning from DDT and other pesticides, has made a remarkable recovery in much of the country.

It still remains on the endangered species list in Illinois, but recovery programs have been going on in the state since 2013 — importing birds from other states.

An indicator of some success appeared in spectacular fashion along the Kankakee River last Friday, presenting birder and photographer Bronson Ratcliff, of Bourbonnais, with what he described as an “incredible moment.”

“I walked out my backdoor and hit the trails through Perry Farm and onto the Kankakee River. After settling on the bank around 7 a.m., noticed a beautiful adult Osprey.”

Here’s the rest of his account:

“Upon further spectating, I noticed the osprey was still hungry for it’s first meal and scanning the waters from its perch for fish likely to become breakfast.

“After about an hour and a half of watching the large bird of prey fly out over the water and change its mind about diving in after what he had spotted, but then, on attempt No. 4, the osprey executed and made a sudden turn to dive into the clear waters of the Kankakee River.

“After I snapped a photo of the osprey trying to muscle up the fish he had caught, the bird then dropped back into the water because it simply could not lift its catch out of the river. (Normally the osprey, which weigh 3 to 4½ pounds) rises heavily out of the water and flies away, carrying its fish head first.)

“I snapped some photos of it bobbling around in the semi-rapid waters it was in, then it decided it was going to swim the breakfast all the way to the shore — (seemed to do most of the swimming with its long wings). I snapped a photo of it swimming past a large softshell turtle and a northern map turtle. Mind you, these turtles were looking confused as they stared at the large bird of prey swimming for shore.

“Then, finally, after about a minute of it being in the water, the osprey muscled it’s catch up and barely onto dry land to then consume the large river redhorse it had caught. The whole time, it was very aware of the forest behind him looking to make sure an opportunistic predator didn’t try to come steal its meal, or worse, try taking down the osprey.

“This action, as a whole, was very exciting and incredible. The best part about getting to witness it myself was being able to capture it and share it afterward with the many other wildlife enthusiasts.

“I was worried about the well-being of the osprey for a second once it realized the fish couldn’t be lifted out of the water. So, since everything turned out so well, it made it all that much better feeling. Though I’d like to give the raptor a pat on the back for staying so dedicated.”

Illinois program

The Illinois osprey repopulation project, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, remains quite small only up to 68 as its sixth year began, under the management of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Raptor Center, at Decatur. The goal is to restore a nesting osprey population in the state.

In other states with repopulation programs, the average is 100, while some have 200 or 300, The Associated Press reported in an August article focusing on the Illinois program.

Ospreys are very large, distinctively shaped hawks. Despite their size, their bodies are slender, with long, narrow wings and long legs. Ospreys fly with a marked kink in their wings, making an M-shape when seen from below. Ospreys are brown above and white below, and overall they are whiter than most raptors.

Update hourly