The fascinating, fast fisher: Osprey

An osprey sits atop its nest on County Road 11, on the north side of the road between County Road 3 and County Road 4. This nesting platform is active nearly every summer, including this summer. Photo by Kate Perkins

Ospreys are arguably one of Minnesota's most interesting birds of prey, and there happens to be several active osprey nests near the Whitefish Chain. At these nests, you can observe  Ospreys as they gather sticks to build their nests, sit upon their eggs, and bring fish to their chicks.

Ospreys are large, black and white birds of prey, identifiable by the streak of black over their eyes, resembling a mask, and the sharp angle of their wings while in flight. Ospreys are also called "fish hawks," no doubt because of their habit of preying on fish. Birds of Minnesota, by Stan Tekiela, says that ospreys are the only bird of prey to dive into the water feet-first to catch fish. Osprey also hold fish head first, making them more aerodynamic for carrying.

According to the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, by Ken Kaufman, ospreys are generally uncommon inland, preferring the eastern and western coastlines of the US. The abundant lake shore and fish population of the Whitefish Chain and Lakes Area, though, must provide the same nourishment to the birds.

Ospreys are migratory birds, only summering in Minnesota. They often build their nests atop utility poles, which is where you'll find them in the Whitefish Area. There are three main nests near the Whitefish Chain: one on the west side of County Road 66, between Loon and Ox Lake, north of the Bourbon Room; and two on County Road 11 between County Road 3 and County Road 4.

Two of the nests are marked on the Birds of the Byway map, while the third is new this summer. Download the Birds of the Byway map and checklist, courtesy of MN Backyard Birds and the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway. On the map, site numbers 7 and 4 are both osprey nests. The third, new nest, is located farther south and east of site 4. Heading south, follow County Road 11 as it makes a hard left, then watch for the nest on a power pole on the left (west) side.

More fun facts about ospreys:

  • These birds can fly up to nearly 80 miles per hour.
  • Studies show that the birds mate for life.
  • They have rough barbs on their feet to help them hold on to slippery fish.
  • Ospreys were seriously endangered in the '70s from DDT and other pesticides, but have made a full recovery.

If you visit the osprey nesting sites listed in this post during the summertime, you're almost sure to see an osprey at one or more of the sites. Enjoy watching this fascinating bird of prey!

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