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An Osprey at Malibu Lagoon

February 16, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale, photos by Chris Tosdevin]

Osprey has recently replaced the Red-tailed Hawk as the most common raptor at Malibu Lagoon.

Since I began censusing the lagoon in October 1979 (there are gaps) and through January 2021, I’ve recorded 130 Red-tailed Hawks on 101 occasions, and 84 Osprey on 76 occasions. Red-tailed Hawks appeared one-third more often than Osprey.

But in more recent years, The Osprey has appeared more frequently. Check this chart.

 Osprey Red-tailed Hawk 

Other than pure happenstance, the most likely explanation has to do with the greater abundance and reliability of lagoon fish, especially the “Jumping Mullet.” These are big fish relative to the Tidewater Gobies, which are hardly worth bothering with, if you’re an Osprey.

The 2012-2013 reconfiguration of the lagoon which eliminated the three narrow, shallow, nearly-anaerobic channels and greatly increasing the water surface area and depth, made the lagoon much friendlier to Mullet. You can often see them jumping from the water several feet into the air.

Osprey have long been classified into their own family of Padionidae of which they are the only member. There are four subspecies. Discussion occasionally arises concerning splitting Osprey into two or more “good” species, but it doesn’t seem to go very far, partially because the subspecies are very difficult to tell apart.

Osprey eat fish and little else. After they catch them in their talons, they grip them with both feet, one foot in front of the other, and carry the fish head first to reduce wind resistance. They return to a perch or to the ground to eat it, holding it in one or both sets of talons and tear at it with their sharply-pointed, hooked bill.

There has been a lot of recent discussion concerning the changing of birds’ English names to make some people happier. The Osprey’s English name goes a long way back, possibly to the 1300’s when many Latin and Old French words came into English, and has never been accurate. It was previously known as the “Ossifrage,” a term found in some English translations of the Bible. This came from Latin os “bone” + frangere “to break,” to make “bone-breaker.”

The problem with this is that Osprey don’t eat bones; they eat fish. From Choate’s Dictionary of American Bird Names:

The bird the old Romans called ossifragus is not the fish hawk [Osprey]. The ossifragus mentioned by Pliny was the Lammergeier, a German name, which means literally “lamb vulture.” It received its Latin name from its habit of dropping bones and even tortoises from a height in order to fragment their ossified body parts.

The Lammergeier is also known as the Bearded Vulture and is found from Eastern Asia to Southern Africa.

The scientific name is Pandion haliaetus (Linnaeus). According to Jobling’s Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names:

Pandion comes from Pandion, the King of Attica, whose tragic daughters, Philomela and Procne, were metamorphosed into a nightingale and a swallow respectively.”

Choate gives an extensive description of the Greek myth, which I won’t trouble you with, and ends with Pandion possibly deriving from Greek pan “all” + dio(n) “god.” They both agree on haliaetus: Greek hals (halos) “the sea” + aetos “eagle.”

By any name, the bird loves fish. People often confuse it with that other fish-loving raptor, the Bald Eagle, primarily because they’re both large, have white heads (partially white in the case of the Osprey), are usually found near water and…eat fish!

  1. February 16, 2021 2:33 pm

    👏👏👏👏👏👏 great pics


  2. February 16, 2021 12:43 pm

    Great shots. I used to love to sit and watch these fascinating hunters at Hawley Lake in the White Mountains of Arizona. Once some years ago, I caught a glimpse of an osprey in Tucson AZ. It was apparently stopping over to hunt at a small man-made lake on the far eastside of town. Problem was I spotted it during one of our infrequent snowstorms so getting a picture was tough. I got only one bad shot of the osprey perched briefly on a radio antenna.


    • Chukar permalink*
      February 16, 2021 12:46 pm

      If you live on Los Angeles west side, Malibu Lagoon is a great place to photo them (when they’re actually there, of course). There are a LOT of Osprey photos on our website.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 16, 2021 3:20 pm

        No, I’m in Tucson, I’ll have to be satisfied with our rapidly proliferating population of Cooper’s hawks.


      • Chukar permalink*
        February 16, 2021 5:10 pm

        They must be much more difficult to photograph, as they come rocketing past your head in pursuit of some sparrow.

        Liked by 1 person

      • February 16, 2021 7:10 pm

        Doves, Chukar, they love doves! And yes, they rocket by, usually at eye level or lower because they love to attack their prey from below! Kek kek kek!!


      • Chukar permalink*
        February 17, 2021 4:23 pm

        I did not know that doves were favorite foods of Cooper’s Hawks.
        Ever try putting a stuffed (i.e. dead) Mourning Dove on a perch or bare spot on the ground and wait for the CoHa to come in and pose? A stuffed rat would probably work as well.

        Once upon a time two of us were birding in an unfamiliar-to-us wooded semi-suburban area when a housecat decided to accompany us. We quickly found that the local birds came to mob it and we got wonderful looks. Thereafter we thought that a stuffed cat on a little wheeled cart might be a great bird magnet, but never came across a suitably stuffed cat.


  3. c prismonreed permalink
    February 16, 2021 10:36 am

    Awesome, Chris! Thanks, Chuck!

    c.prismon-reed 松林 songlin/ 송림 songlim ______________________________ * 詩人 小蘭 * “a poet is a small orchid”

    On Tue, Feb 16, 2021, 02:06 SANTA MONICA BAY AUDUBON SOCIETY BLOG wrote:

    > Chukar posted: ” [Posted by Chuck Almdale, photos by Chris Tosdevin] > Osprey has recently replaced the Red-tailed Hawk as the most common raptor > at Malibu Lagoon. Since I began censusing the lagoon in October 1979 (there > are gaps) and through January 2021, I” >


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