While the American Bald Eagle was getting all the attention for its comeback in the lower 48 states, another bird of prey was quietly making a comeback of its own. The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), a fish-eating hawk, has also benefitted from some of the same legal protections and conservation measures that have assisted the Bald Eagle. The Osprey has a white head with a dark eye stripe. It hunts by folding its wings and making a steep dive into the water feet first to catch fish. Osprey pairs add to their nest each year, and nests can be up to 6 feet wide and 10 feet thick. Nests are placed in the tops of dead trees or on cliffs near bodies of water.
Efforts to reintroduce the Osprey as a nesting species in Illinois are underway now. Since they are loyal to the place where they grow up, young birds are imported to Illinois where they spend a few days or weeks living in “hack towers,” large, elevated nest boxes located near suitable habitat. When the birds are old enough, the doors are opened and they are allowed to fledge (learn to fly). Food is left for a while until the young birds are independent. Ospreys migrate to Central and South America where they spend the first two years. Once they are mature, it is hoped they will return to the spot where they were raised to start families of their own. This technique has worked well in other states to help reestablish nesting ospreys. Illinois also benefits from birds moving into the state from surrounding states with strong populations. Some day soon, the Osprey may be a candidate for removal from the state list of threatened and endangered species.
Learn about the Osprey recovery program and watch a young bird take its first flight.