Saturday, November 7, 2009 an Osprey came to the WR&E Wildlife Center with burned feet and feathers. It is not known if the burns are thermal, electrical or chemical. No matter the cause, the feathers are damaged and she will be with us until after she molts.
Feathers are like hair and fingernails, they are non-living structures that arise from living tissue. Once damaged, they cannot be repaired. Lost feathers are replaced immediately, but most damage must wait until the annual molt. Other bird species rotate between breeding and non-breeding plumage via a complete or partial molt. Therefore, the Osprey could be with WR&E for quite a while.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are a large fish eating raptor with a wingspan of 6 feet! It is a fierce looking bird with white breast, belly, forehead and crown with black (or very dark brown) back, wings and mask across yellow eyes. Juveniles have more mottled plumage and orange eyes. The Osprey in our care has a “necklace” of darker feathers. This is an indicator that the raptor is female. It is not conclusive, but this marking occurs much more frequently in females.
Considered a hawk, it has very unique features that make it a specialized hunter. The Osprey can dive feet first up to three feet into the water and lift fish that weigh almost as much as it does! The undersides of the feet are covered with short, sharp spikes called spicules that vastly improve grip. Unlike other hawks and eagles, the Osprey has one toe that can rotate forward or backward (like an owl’s) to adjust the grip of a strike. The nostrils are thin slits that can be closed when diving.
It has the largest distribution of any bird of prey and can be found everywhere except Antarctica. Birds in more temperate zones often select a range and not migrate, while others travel from wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico, down through Central America to South America to breeding grounds in the upper tier of states, through Canada to Alaska. The upper Gulf Coast hosts these magnificent birds during the winter.