tofino birding - osprey in tofino

Tofino Ospreys

by George Bradd, Tofino

the letter 'I'

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 them.

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 and live.

George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising in birdwatching tours. For more info, visit his website at

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Tofino bird watching guide George Bradd writes about Ospreys in Tofino in this article from Tofino Time magazine.

tofino time september 2005

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