A friend asked me what bird I’d be if I could be any bird species.
Turns out this simple question has a complicated answer.
I love all birds, and each has characteristics I would enjoy adapting.
Choosing One Bird Species
Selecting just one bird species requires some thought.
I love Red-bellied Woodpeckers, but they don’t migrate where I live in New York and Connecticut.
And I’ve become a migrant in the cold, winter months.
And since I’m a pescatarian, the woodpecker’s diet of nuts and bugs doesn’t work for me.
Gray Catbirds have quirky personalities that match mine, they migrate to the tropics for the winter, and sport two colors I often wear – urban monochromatic gray and black.
Catbirds enjoy eating fruits and berries, but also dine on ants, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and moths.
But both of these birds serve as cuisine for birds of prey, and I’d prefer not being served up for dinner or having to look around with every bite I take.
I prefer being on top of the food chain and dominating the skies.
So what bird species would I be?
After taking into consideration diet, winter migration, status, and nest location among many other variables, I decided I’d enjoy being an Osprey.
Osprey are Magnificent Fish-eating Birds
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are magnificent fish-eating birds with a cosmopolitan range.
They’re commonly referred to as Seahawk, Fish Hawk or Fish Eagle.
Osprey are unique raptors, and we’re in awe of these incredible birds not only for their stunning beauty, quirky personality, and lifestyle living near the water but also for their choice of prey.
I eat sushi almost every day.
Osprey Eat Fish Almost Exclusively
Osprey eat fish almost exclusively, so their neat adaptations are for catching fish.
As an Osprey, I don’t need to find the best sushi joint in town.
I make my own sushi.
Flying or hovering over the water from high up (30-100 feet), I spot my prey, then dive or more like, plunge feet-first into the water, submerging completely in the pursuit of sushi.
Then with my sushi in my powerful talons, I fly out of the water to a safe place where I can eat my fish.
Sounds like a simple process, but think about what would happen if a Great Horned Owl plunged into the water to catch a fish.
Owls Are Less Water Resistant
Great Horned Owls can ‘swim’ for short distances in an emergency, but if you see an owl in the water chances are pretty good the bird is in distress.
Owls don’t go in the water because they have no means of defense.
These birds can’t ascend from the water, and an owl’s large talons aren’t capable of propelling them through the water quickly.
You’ll see owls bathing their outer-most feathers from time to time, but an owl’s feathers are less water-resistant than many other birds.
So although owls can swim when forced to, it’s not something owls choose to do voluntarily.
Mighty Wings for Diving In and Out of Water
Here’s how an Osprey gets their dinner with such style.
The Osprey species is at least 11 million years old and is so well adapted to fishing that it has evolved unique characteristics that set it apart from other raptor species.
-Osprey have long, narrow, strong wings that enable them to fly in place so they can take their time scouting out the water and fish.
-Their nares (nostrils) are long and narrow, and capable of closing when they dive in.
-Those long, narrow wings are critical for getting back out of the water.
An Osprey’s wings are extra-powerful when swimming and flying to the surface and breaking out of heavy water with a hefty fish in their powerful talons.
Oily and Dense Feathers
No one wants to have a bad hair day, and an Osprey’s feathers are particularly rigid and strong enduring powerful dives into the water.
An Osprey’s oily and dense feathers provide waterproofing as they dive into the water.
Their feathers also make them buoyant, so they can’t go deeper than about 3 feet below the water surface.
Feet are Fish-catching Tools
-Their feet are the fish-catching tools themselves, and different from other raptors.
Osprey have toes all the same length for more uniform grabbing of the slippery fish.
Their talons are uniformly rounded instead of edged like most raptors, and extra-hook shaped.
One of an Osprey’s front toes can switch around to be a back toe. (Two in the front, two in the back, instead of three in the front and one in the back).
The feet are covered in rough spicules, much like coarse sandpaper, that helps them grip slimy, wiggling fish.
My favorite attribute is while flying away with the freshly-caught prey, an Osprey manipulates the fish so that it is parallel to its body, and it’s aerodynamic.
A few other characteristics I love about these birds.
Their Beak is Their Bite
Osprey have strong hooked beak allowing them to easily tear fish into bite-sized pieces.
A Birds Species All Its Own
Osprey live on every single continent except Antarctica, making them like the Peregrine Falcon, but without distinct subspecies and variations.
There’s only one Osprey.
The Osprey does what it does really well to survive and has never needed to be tweaked for different regions.
Osprey are high-strung and finicky, take a lot of persuasion to eat when in rehabilitation, and they smell funny.
These birds have a distinctive, though not unpleasant odor.
Most assume their scent is from the many fish an Osprey eats, but their Eau de Osprey fragrance is from the heavy oil they secrete to keep their plumage superbly water resistant.
Plus, they are great diplomats and prefer to be roommates with another bird I adore, Turkey Vultures.
Osprey get along wonderfully with nature’s garbagemen because they’re incredibly skilled and perfect in their natural environment.
Osprey generally pair for life mate for life, but will “divorce” if mating is unsuccessful.
The female chooses her mate based on the quality and location of his nest.
What woman doesn’t want a lovely house in a good neighborhood?
These birds build big, ungainly stick nests, and make large nests on the top of dead or live trees.
They will also readily use nest platforms or other man-made structures like utility poles.
Osprey often gets a helping hand from humans encroaching on viable Osprey-nesting land.
Humans are building artificial nesting platforms all around the world, and the Osprey appears to like them just fine.
Osprey are Frequent Flyers
Osprey live to be 15-20 years old.
The oldest known Osprey was just over 25 years old.
During that long lifetime, these migratory birds can rack up over 160,000 miles of travel.
In fact, in 2008 an Osprey being tracked by researchers flew an incredible 2,700 miles in just 13 days, traveling from Massachusetts to French Guiana, South America.
Osprey Near Extinction
During the mid-20th century, North American Osprey populations, along Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, suffered significant losses due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT.
After DDT and other contaminants were banned, the Osprey recovered reasonably quickly.
I’m always up for a challenge, so being a bird that can back from the brink of extinction demonstrates the fierceness of the Osprey.
So what’s not to love about these spectacular, quirky fish-eating birds of prey.
What Bird Species Would You Be?
If you could be any bird, what bird species would you be?
Tell us in the comments section below.
Looking forward to reading your responses.
Now I’m off to, of course, eat some sushi!