Who hasn’t noticed when crossing the Jolley Bridge leaving the island, the lone American Osprey sitting on the hand rail, the light pole or sign, usually looking to the south, and sometimes, it seems, looking right into your eyes through the windshield? This American Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) has been observed on our bridge for years. My daughters as young girls, then driving to high school on their own, have always noticed it in the mornings, admiring its tenacity perched on the sign as cars zoom by ruffling its feathers and enjoying one of our unique vistas as a Marco Island resident.
Even during the construction of the new span of the Jolley Bridge, this osprey would perch on poles and equipment stored on the bridge. I wondered if all the construction would be the last of this osprey’s time on the bridge. But, no, it is our steady sentinel day after day, year after year! It has the best view on and of the island, no doubt! Its nest is just below the bridge, on a navigational channel marker in the Marco River. This osprey is just overseeing its territory, its family and nest.
Ospreys are residents in Florida year-round. Not suffering from the serious pesticide-related population declines in other states thatoccurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Florida population is large and healthy. They share the same habitat as the Florida Bald Eagle population, being fish eaters and nesting near water bodies. They are expert anglers that can hover above water (the Gulf of Mexico, rivers, lakes, canals), using their excellent eyesight, locate their prey, which is typically hardhead catfish, mullet, and spotted trout, then swoop down for the capture with talons extended. To help them hang on to fish, their toes are covered on the underside with short spines. It is amazing to watch them hunt and the capture!
Often identified incorrectly and compared to a Bald Eagle, American Ospreys are smaller and have a distinctive dark brown line that extends behind the eye to the back of the head. When a Bald Eagle is in flight, the wing span is straight across; in comparison, ospreys’ narrow wings are angled down while in flight.
In and around Marco Island, osprey nests, very large stick structures, can be seen on land and over water. On many of the navigational markers in the Marco River, Capri Pass, Caxambas Pass, and the Intracoastal Waterway to Naples, the large nests almost cover the marker’s numbers. During the nesting season, January to April, it is fun to see the adults catching fish and feeding their young inthe nest. Like other birds of prey, osprey mates will stay together and will nest in the same location year after year, if possible. The female will lay up to three buff-colored eggs, and solely incubate them until hatching. Both adults will feed and care for the hatchlings until the young are fledged (can fly and hunt on their own). Our sentinel we see on the bridge is an adult male, watching over his female and chicks.
Though they have adapted well, not just manmade structures attract them, but dead standing trees are nest attractors also. A great place to see this is along the coast of Kice Island. At Tigertail Beach Park, an osprey platform was erected which has had an active nest for a few seasons now – an easy way to see ospreys and their young in action. The platform in Mackle Park, erected by a Boy Scout as an Eagle Scout project, has yet to have a nest built on it, but the ospreys do occasionally feed and rest on the platform that is located at the southeast corner of Mackle Park Lake. The large antenna structure above the Marco Island Police and Fire Department building has had a nest producing at least two young each season for many years.
StateRoad 92 (the Goodland route off Marco Island) has installed large discs for osprey nesting. LCEC has also long promoted the installment of artificial nesting platforms for the purpose of moving the birds away from their power poles and lines. Since power poles are usually the highest structure in urban areas, ospreys frequently build atop the dangerous poles and wires. Mortality to ospreys from power lines occurs and also causes power outages and other maintenance issues, so over the years, creating a compatible platform away from power lines has lessened osprey deaths due to flight into the wires. It is a win-win situation for maintenance and power outages.
The osprey is a protected species under federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 USC 703-712) and listed as a “species of special concern” by the state of Florida (Rule 68A-4.001, Florida Adminstrative Code). A permit is necessary from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to take or possess an osprey, it’s young, egg or nest(s) for justifiable purposes. For more information on the American Osprey, or if interested in creating an osprey platform, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island Environmental Specialist, at 239-389- 5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.myfwc.com.
Next time you leave the island, look for our sentinel on the Jolley Bridge! He will be there watching!