Adjacent to the L.T. Davis Rest Area along Highway 70 is a pole and platform that hosts the seasonal nesting site of a pair of American Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The structure was installed by the Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Coop to hopefully keep the birds from nesting on the live power lines.
For the past five nesting seasons, a pair of osprey has used the platform and has raised young to fledgling (flying) age. Reno resident Bob Goodman has monitored the ospreys and stated, “I have been working with this species since the mid-1960s. The nest near the Davis rest area is one of eight nests I have been monitoring for the past many years in conjunction with the International Osprey Watch Program.” Goodman is a wealth of information on the topic of osprey, and welcomed a chance to share it with the community.
The American Osprey is often called the fish hawk because its main diet is fish, taken by diving into waters to grab fish from up to 14 inches below the surface.
Many know how slippery fish can be, and the osprey has developed the usual four talons as other raptors, but to hold fish in flight, it is able to turn one talon around to grasp with two talons on either side of the fish in a clamp grip.
Grasping a fish with both feet, the bird flies with the fish’s head forward, one foot in front of the other, helping in the aerodynamics of flight.
Both sexes of the American Osprey have the same plumage. They have white under bodies that help them blend into the sky from a fish’s eye below and a dark brownish back. Osprey is often confused with bald Eagles because of their white heads, but the osprey has a distinguishable black stripe through the eye.
In flight, a bald eagle has straight wings, whereas the osprey has a pronounced crook in the wing.
The pair of birds at L.T. Davis Rest Area typically arrive in early spring, when they can be observed repairing their nest from the previous year, or in many cases, rebuilding if the nest was destroyed over the winter.
Following courtship, the female lays one to four eggs a couple of days apart. After some 30 days, the eggs hatch in the order laid, and then the work begins for the parents. Feeding a family of multiple youngsters can keep the parents fishing constantly as the young develop very rapidly.
The young grow from egg to fledgling in about 60 days, and in the days leading up to leaving the nest, can be observed on the nest edge exercising their wings in simulated flight.
There are certain risks involved when osprey nest so close to human activity, as at the L.T. Davis Rest Area. There is always the chance that a thoughtless human will shoot the birds. However, the osprey are protected under the International Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and killing, or even disturbing their nest is punishable by fines or possible jail time.
Osprey are migratory. This pair will raise their family here, but fly south for the winter. This pair may spend the winter around the Sea of Cortez, the Baja Peninsula, or even to countries in South America.
Being close to humans also raises possible intrusions to the nesting site by those being curious and wanting to get close. This is certainly not advisable as ospreys are very defensive of their nests, especially if youngsters are in it. They will attack by dive-bombing any intruder to drive them away. Their talons are fearsome.
Observing the nest and its occupants can be done from the L.T. Davis Rest Area. Using binoculars can really enhance the experience with a close up view of these very beautiful birds and their young.