2013-09-12 / Nature

Avian ‘Snowbird’ Journeys

By Jack Kelly


Juvenile Osprey feeds on fish near Toppa Field. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Juvenile Osprey feeds on fish near Toppa Field. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The Osprey pair that nests at Freebody Park/Toppa Field had a successful breeding season and produced two healthy juveniles. The young birds have delighted their human neighbors with every stage of their education from tentative first flights to learning to fish with their parents. This is the seventh season together for the mated-for-life elder birds. During that time, the adults have raised 16 juveniles in the nest they built together during their intense courtship and mating ritual in 2007.

Within the next week, this avian family will leave the nesting area and begin their preparations for migration to South America. The adults will separate and make solo journeys to their wintering grounds. They will not reunite again until next spring when they meet back at their nest in Newport. For approximately 3-4 weeks the juveniles will roost locally near wetlands and hone their fishing and flying skills in preparation for their first migration. The young birds will remain in South America for three winters while they mature. In the spring of 2016, they will travel to the region of their origin, seek a mate and continue the cycle of life for their species.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. The average adult Osprey has a body length of almost two feet and a wingspan of about 5.5 feet. They are dark brown above and white below, with a dark eye-stripe, short white head crest, and yellow eyes. In flight, all Ospreys show mottled, brown and white underwings, as well as long tendrils to aid in soaring and hovering. Juvenile birds have a white checkerboard pattern on their upper wings, red eyes and are almost as large as the parents. Ospreys have an opposable rear toe which allows the birds to roost and carry fish.

The Osprey is colloquially known as the “Fish Hawk” because it is the only bird-of-prey that eats fish exclusively. This species hunts by hovering over water, then plunging down to seize fish in its large, open talons that are lined with retractable barbs known as spicules. The Osprey population has grown on Aquidneck Island as more newly mature birds return to the region and establish viable nests near ocean, wetlands, ponds and Narragansett Bay habitats.

As the fall migration cycle continues, hundreds of migratory Osprey will pass by or through Newport County, as this far ranging species nests in many areas of North America. During their travels south, migratory Osprey may be observed resting or feeding in any of the island’s wetlands or along the coastal plain. The sight of these massive raptors diving into the water and capturing a fish is breathtaking.

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