By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
Like a lot of Washingtonians, ospreys head south for the winter, where they hang out around the water and fish, just like their human neighbors.
But they’re back now for summer in the Puget Sound area, where ospreys don’t find their lives dramatically different. Here, too, they hang out around the water, and they fish a lot.
Fishing is important for ospreys because fish are essentially all they eat. Like other hawks, they also eat the occasional snake, frog or mouse. But not too many.
Ospreys eat so many fish that their talons evolved to be rough, not smooth or grooved, which makes it easier to hold their catch.
They also have one toe that moves forward or backward to make it easier to carry the prey, which the osprey typically places head first to be more aerodynamic as it flies off with a meal.
Ospreys do more than fish in the Puget Sound area. Breeding pairs will be incubating two or three eggs soon and will hope to raise a family before it’s time to head back to Central America in the fall.
That’s a good thing for bird-watchers and for other outdoors enthusiasts because ospreys are fun to watch as they soar overhead with sticks, grasses, twine and in some cases, just plain trash, to repair nests that have suffered over the winter.
And because about 99 percent of their diet is fish, ospreys are pretty good at catching them, which is also fun to watch.
Ospreys have excellent eyesight and like to soar over the water scanning the surface for fish. They think nothing of diving 50 feet to snatch a meal.
Snohomish County residents are fortunate because the Snohomish River estuary is said to have the largest concentration of breeding ospreys in salt water along the West Coast.
A few years ago, biologists counted 26 active osprey nests along the main stem of the Snohomish and its sloughs, as well as in the salt water around Jetty Island.
The easiest way to see some of the large colony of ospreys is to visit Everett’s Legion Park. At the northwest end of the park, you can look out over the river delta and see several osprey nests. There’s also a spotting scope there, but you’re better off bringing your own binoculars.
The Port of Everett’s 10th Street boat launch off W. Marine View Drive in Everett is also a good spot. The area includes a tidal mudflat that makes it easy fishing for the ospreys.
There are several nests atop pilings just north of the parking area for the launch ramp. The city of Everett also has two pocket parks on W. Marine View Drive north of the launch where you can see a few of the nests and also sometimes see ospreys flying overhead.
Another good location to watch osprey is at the city of Everett’s Langus Riverfront Park on Smith Island Road. You can park there and walk an asphalt path along the Snohomish River quite a way, passing by several osprey nests.
You can also walk upriver to Spencer Island, where you’ll see ducks, geese, herons and a variety of other wildlife, including ospreys.
- Weight: 3 to 4.5 pounds
- Length: 20 to 26 inches. Females are usually a bit larger.
- Wingspan: Up to 6 feet
- Color: Brown and white
- Dive: Ospreys dive from 30 to 100 feet in the air after fish.
- Lifespan: They live about 30 years in the wild.
- Widespread: Ospreys are the most common type of hawk, living on every continent except Antarctica.