by George Bradd, Tofino
It was a still quiet morning on the Tofino Mudflat. The ringing songs
of the thrush in the forest and the gentle peeping of the sandpipers
on the distant shore were clearly audible. A fat black bear lazily
munched on his vegetarian meal in the far meadows. High tide filled
the bay with a glassy sheet of calm water. A series of slight ripples
in the water indicated the progress of a feeding fish.
With a big splash, a large brown and white bird dove into the water
and emerged while shaking itself off in flight, with a nice fish in
its talons. The Osprey rose up off the water and headed down the bay
rapidly, already shadowed by a pursuing Bald Eagle. Managing to make
it over the treetops in his first run, the Osprey turned and headed
back in the opposite direction, but a second eagle blocked his escape
route. Now wheeling higher and higher, soon all three birds became
specks in the open sky, with an occasional silver glint of the fish
revealing the Osprey.
The Osprey then dived suddenly; dropping so fast that it appeared
to be headed for a certain crash in the water. The eagles dived also,
following right behind the smaller bird. Abruptly the Osprey leveled
off and flew through a gap in the forest edge. The eagles shot by,
and pulled up over the water.
As the Osprey’s loud screams faded gradually away, the eagles
flew off slowly, foiled in their unsuccessful attempt to steal from
the hardworking Osprey. Ospreys are frequently robbed by eagles that
lay in wait on the return route to the Osprey nest. This robbery affects
Osprey distribution so much that when Bald Eagles change their nest
location, Ospreys will often change nest location also.
The Osprey feeds on a variety of fish species. In Tofino they have
the advantage that both the open Pacific Ocean side, and the sheltered
mudflat side offer good fishing grounds. In the event of a summer storm,
calm water can be found on the inlet side. I have seen Ospreys fishing
right up close to local surfers at Chesterman Beach.
Nests are large bulky structures composed of sticks, built either
in trees or sometimes on beaches. Ospreys are very sensitive around
their nests and will abandon a nest if people or auto traffic disturbs
They lay usually three beautiful spotted or blotched cinnamon brown
eggs, the female incubate for about 28 days. During this period of
time, the male brings food back for the female.
Young Ospreys start fishing as soon as they leave the nest. They must
practice a lot before they start to catch fish, and are given lessons
by their parents. It can be comical to watch the young Ospreys fishing
and crashing into the water, coming up empty handed each time.
The Osprey is a large fish hawk and is found all around the world.
The wingspan is 63 inches wide and they weigh about 3.5 pounds. They
have a distinctive flight pattern, which distinguishes them from all
the other hawk species. They fly with a crooked wing, which seems to
be bent down at the elbow. Under the wing is a black wrist and secondaries
and adults have a brown back and white cap on their head. Their voice
is a shrill peeping or whistling and can be heard from a distance.
After spending summers in Tofino, our Ospreys head south for the
winter. Large wintering populations can be found in Baja, Mexico. While
migrating they follow landforms on the edge large bodies of water.
Some particular locations funnel large numbers of hawks, eagles and
ospreys in big numbers every day. In the old days gunners would line
the cliffs blasting away until piles of dead birds littered the ground
below. Now people gather by the hundred to watch and marvel at the
flights of migrating raptors.
Ospreys are found world wide, but are concentrated in places where
fish is abundant, waters are unpolluted and where they are protected.
They will concentrate their nests in loose colonies where protected,
and one colony in 1896 had over 500 nests.
Today their range and numbers have been reduced from historical times.
Tofino has a few local Osprey nests and our large population of Bald
Eagles probably limits the Osprey numbers. We can consider ourselves
fortunate to live in an area so undisturbed that Osprey can nest. If
the wild fish are unpolluted the Osprey can produce healthy babies
and so can people.
Visitors from other countries are very impressed that Tofino has
local Osprey nests that exist.
As the sun set this evening, two Ospreys circled me with their beautiful
white and black patterns outlined against the blue sky, peeping out
a message for me below. I like to think that they were telling me how
they appreciate this place where they can fish and nest in peace. Let
us keep Tofino the kind of place that wild salmon and Ospreys can thrive
George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising
in birdwatching tours. For more info, visit his website at www.justbirding.com
Tofino Birdwatching Articles
Tofino bird watching guide George Bradd writes about Ospreys in Tofino in this article from Tofino Time magazine.