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The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is also sometimes called a fish hawk, and is a common bird of prey on Hilton Head Island. Ospreys can be seen hunting for fish over both fresh and salt water bodies, diving talons (claws) first into the water and often disappearing beneath the surface to catch fish. Once airborne again, they shake the excess water off their feathers, and orient the fish to face into the wind as they carry it in their talons.

Ospreys are easy to identify, because they are the only bird of prey in this area that usually hovers in midair before diving to catch a fish. Adults are white beneath, except for a black mark in the crook of their wings, and dark above, with long narrow wings. The head is white with a dark eye stripe. Osprey pairs remain together for life, and nest near or over water, using the same nest season after season. On the island, these nests are placed in trees, on power poles, cell towers and water tanks. Most of our ospreys are migratory, and they usually return around mid-January - February, with courting, breeding and nesting starting in late February or early March. Female ospreys usually incubate the eggs,which takes about 30 days, and the male brings her food during this time. The young first take flight at about 50 days of age. By August, the adults and young are usually gone from the nesting area.

Ospreys are another species that suffered severe decline in the 1960s and 1970s due to the effects of pesticides such as DDT. Threats to the survival of these birds today include loss of nesting habitat and decline of fish stocks.

If you would like to see an osprey nest on Hilton Head Island during nesting season, visit https://www.palmetto.coop/osprey-habitats/.

Additional Resources:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Osprey/id