A Bird’s-Eye View

Written By: Monica S. Navia

“Hey look,” the man pointed frantically to the sky, “a bald eagle!” I looked incredulously up at the pinkish sky, shielding my eyes from the bright sun that was getting ready to retire for the day. I saw a massive bird, with wings that spanned for several feet, hovering above us. As I squinted, I followed its flight and all of a sudden it dove into the bay at lightning speed. Victoriously, its touch and go lift-off yielded its prize, a fish flapping in its talons. It had become unlucky prey in the clutches of a victorious parent rushing back to its nest. I was about to correct the bird-watcher and tell him that it was, in fact, not a bald eagle but an osprey. I was reluctant, however, to crush his “discovery” and undoubtedly his storytelling prowess to friends.

I knew that osprey and its mate. We wait every year for spring to come to see our feathered friends return to build their home and brood. Most ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter. My dogs and I hike on Circle Beach twice daily, and we always look up at their skillfully designed stick and sod nest. One of the ospreys is usually perched in the nest and the other one is watching carefully from a tree afar. As we get closer, the parent in the nest begins to squawk, alerting its ever-faithful mate of the potentially predatory pugs and maltipoo below. Their parental instincts are not unlike the kind that my mate and I display when we are walking our four-legged children. Billy, my fiancé who is usually walking ahead of us, yells out if there are potential dangers and roadblocks. Glass as well as dead fish already mutilated by seagulls and crows are causes for him to wave and red flag our expeditions.

After arriving here three years ago from the concrete city, I made it my quest to appreciate flora and fauna. My daily runs at the Elizabeth Morton Wildlife Center had not only given me breathtaking exercise, but I had learned all about the majestic osprey and piping plover, as the science boards throughout the reserve displayed proudly boasted.

Albeit always an animal lover, I developed a fascination with the osprey, also referred to as the “fish hawk”, “fish eagle”, “sea hawk” and “river hawk”. They are expert fishers, with fishing making up 99 percent of their diet. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. According to the National Geographic, ospreys hunt by diving to the water’s surface from some 30 to 100 feet up. They have gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water with their curved claws and carry them for long distances. In flight, ospreys will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance. Ospreys are sometimes confused with bald eagles as I would have gently told my fellow bird aficionado, but can be identified by their white underparts. These raptors reach more than 24 inches in length and 71 inches across their wings. Their white heads also have a distinctive black eye-stripe that extends down the side of their faces.

My curiosity piqued, I hunted down more information on these fascinating fish hawks. North American osprey populations became endangered in the 1950s due to chemical pollutants such as DDT, which thinned their eggshells and hampered reproduction. Thankfully, ospreys have made a comeback significantly in recent decades. They lay eggs (typically three), which both parents help to incubate. Osprey eggs don’t hatch all at once, but are staggered in time so that some siblings are older and more dominant. When food is scarce these stronger birds may take it all and leave their siblings to starve. This eat or be eaten philosophy of the wild kingdom is jarring but necessary.

After I proudly rattled off my research prowess to my fiancé, he looked incredulously at me, presumably at my rabid fascination with these F-17s, and said, “They mate for life?” The one fact out of all the compelling facts I had discovered seemed to shock him the most. I ignored his marvel at the monogamous nature of the osprey and continued my soliloquy.

As we meander daily through the roads of the East End, I can spot those beautifully engineered nests atop trees and light posts. I wonder if people ever look up and notice those beautiful families perched above us. Amidst the chaos and traffic and frantic energy that the East End invokes in the summer, those ospreys remain vigilant and calm in their quest to build and foster their families. That is the reason, after all, why we moved to Noyac – to build and protect our lives together. Especially now, with the world in a state of heightened alarm and anxiety, I feel safe and at peace here in Noyac.

My parents recently celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary, and I couldn’t help but view their relationship as that of the osprey. When I visit them, I see the way they have learned to navigate the rough waters of life together, raising four daughters and always unconditionally loving and protecting their brood.

I am only now looking at my parents with the same fascination I have discovered for my winged beacons of hope. When people say stop and smell the roses, I would recommend that after you do that, look up at the sky, and give a salute to the osprey – may we learn from those creatures what is really important in life.