At one point this morning I counted 9 Osprey fishing on the south end of Devil’s Lake. I take time to watch them fish every now-and-again. Normally you might see one or two pairs over the lake, so this was busy morning. Well, it didn’t take long to see the advantage in the larger numbers, especially when they had a Bald Eagle to deal with!
Osprey’s are large, screaming fast, fish-eating hawks with an awesome paint job. They are recognisable by their contrasted coloration and black stripe across their face that accents their bright yellow eyes. Like many other large raptors such as Bald Eagles, their population crashed in the 1950s & 60s due to DDT used to control insect populations since the mid-1940s. If you ever wanted to know why people are raging about threats to the EPA these days.. Just look up “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Thankfully the movement that arose and a 1972 order by the EPA stopped DDT usage and we still have Osprey and eagles today.
So, this morning I was watching the many Osprey circle in the grey-white sky looking for fish in the lake below. When an Osprey would spot a fish, they would tuck their wings and go into a high-speed dive. Just before they hit the surface of the water, they thrust out their talons, then in a massive explosion of water, they hit the surface to grab the fish just below. If they are lucky enough to catch the fish, they struggle to lift themselves and their catch back into the sky before rearranging and storing their cargo in an aerodynamic flight position, and heading off to eat.
I’d been watching the morning hunt for some time before I noticed a group of birds coming out of the north-east. They caught my eye because it was odd to see 4 Osprey seeming to fly in formation. That was until I realized that one of the bunch wasn’t an Osprey, it was a Bald Eagle!
Ben Franklin never really wanted the Bald Eagle to be the national bird. He had seen how they don’t like to hunt, but would rather wait for the Osprey’s to catch the fish, then simply bully them and steal their food. We’ve seen this behavior at Devil’s Lake as well. Ben prefered the Turkey as the national symbol. No one likes a bully!
This morning however, it seems the Osprey had it handled. I realized that the 3 Osprey were escorting the eagle away from the lake. Obviously it had violated their airspace! Once they neared the south shore, two other osprey came in from the south-east and picked up the escort. The original 3 birds banked west and went back out over the lake. It felt like I was watching an old WWII flick!
The two osprey continued to escort the bald eagle south before again, one osprey banked off and the other took position right over the eagle’s back and followed it over my head and over the south bluff before disappearing from view.
Amazing! I don’t know if this is a normal behavior for Osprey, but it was pretty impressive. Either way, I have to admit after seeing the eagles steal an Osprey’s food a few times over Devil’s Lake, I was totally cheering them on!! Well, I would have but I didn’t dare open my mouth with the cloud of lake flies that surrounded me!