New Sand Key Residents Ignore Law
By Paul Ingham
Two years ago I, observed several pairs of Fish Hawks, otherwise known as Osprey, soaring over the island. Unfortunately, with only softwood Australian Pines on Sand Key the Osprey did not have a substantial place to build their nest which can weigh up to 1000 pounds. Their nests were inland and they traveled to Sand Key to hunt as Ospreys only eat live fish. I approached the superintendent of Sand Key County Park, Dave Hollingsworth, about erecting an Osprey nesting platform if Paul could arrange with Progress Energy to donate and install the power pole that would support the structure. Dave agreed it would be a nice addition to the Park. I contacted
Progress Energy who agreed to help in the project and then he contacted the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) to secure the specification for the Park to build the nesting platform. The Osprey platform was installed late fall three years ago. It is located over the pond on the south side immediately as you enter the Park.
Florida Ospreys only build nests in the winter in preparation for their chicks hatching in the spring.
For two years Ospreys have used the platform for hunting and eating...until last week. We now have our first Osprey residents in many decades. The Park prohibits fishing, however, will make an exception for their new residents. Ospreys are typically associated with permanent water habitats, especially sea coasts, impoundments, lakes, rivers, and swamps. Breeding habitat requirements include open expanses of water that support abundant slow-moving fish, water clarity sufficient to allow visual detection of fish, and elevated or inaccessible sites for nest-building. Ospreys consume fish almost exclusively, although crustaceans, frogs, turtles, birds, and rodents are occasionally on the menu.
The nest is a large, bulky structure that is regularly reused and enlarged for several successive years. In central Florida, Ospreys usually initiate breeding in February or March, and breeding continues through May or June. Ospreys typically lay three eggs that are creamy-white, and heavily blotched and spotted with browns, grays, and rust. Incubation requires approximately 38 days, and the young fledge at 49 to 59 days of age.
Ospreys hunt alone, flying over the water looking for fish. Then they plunge into the water feet-first and grab the fish with powerful talons (claws.) Ospreys need to catch about 1 - 3 fish a day. A father osprey, who must fish for 2-3 chicks and a mate, has to catch 6-8 fish a day.
Ospreys are specially built to be fish-hunters. For one thing, the bottoms of their feet have many short spines which help them to hang onto a slimy fish. Ospreys have extremely sharp talons and a strong hooked beak for tearing fish into bite-sized pieces. They also have oily feathers which help keep them dry when they splash into the water.
Ospreys mate for life, and mated pairs come back to the same nest year after year. If the pair has no nest, they both collect sticks and grasses to build one. Sometimes they also pick up plastic bags and fishing wire (which can accidentally kill the babies). Florida ospreys stay in Florida year round and lay their eggs between December and February.
Ten to fifteen days before fledging (flying), young ospreys practice flapping their wings. They jump up and down on the nest until a wind gust carries them over the edge. Osprey parents will toss a fish near the fledging babies to encourage them to make that first leap.
If you have not visited Sand Key County Park it is truly a gift to our county. The new Osprey residents apparently agree.
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