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Skim Hunting Osprey

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Thursday, April 24, 2014


Skim Hunting Osprey
An Osprey employs an unusual foraging technique along the San Gabriel River. Skim Hunting.  | Hugh Ryono

An Osprey's out of the ordinary fish hunting technique.

One of the benefits of being out in the field recording data on the Green Sea Turtles of the San Gabriel River for NOAA and the Aquarium of the Pacific is that Nature is always putting on a show. This past weekend we were fortunate to witness a rare hunting technique sometimes utilized by Ospreys: skim hunting.

Ospreys are large fish eating raptors. Their normal method of catching fish is to swoop down toward shallow swimming prey. They dramatically dive into the water talons first to catch their quarry. At least that’s what most Ospreys do.

While scanning for sea turtles in the river I noticed a low flying bird trailing a wake in the water flying toward us. At first I thought it was a Black Skimmer which is a bird that flies close to the water surface with its lower beak skimming the water for fish. However as the bird got closer I noticed that it wasn’t a skimmer but was to my surprise a large bird of prey. An Osprey! This was the first time I had witnessed this rare form of foraging by a raptor.

The Osprey would fly just inches above the river with its talons trailing in the water leaving behind a thin wake. Like a Black Skimmer the raptor hoped to surprise and catch shallow swimming fish. But unlike a skimmer the Osprey would use it sharp talons instead of its beak to grasp its prey. The first few attempts came up empty. Each time the raptor would circle around and come in again for another try although a bit further down the river. It finally caught a small fish after the fourth attempt. Because I was photographing the sea turtles of the river for identification studies I was able to get some images of the Osprey’s skim hunting behavior which you see illustrating this blog.

The precision of this bird of prey as it flew its unique flight pattern impressed me greatly. It also reminded me to appreciate the diversity and adaptation of Nature, even along an urban river.

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