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An osprey is seen on and circling its nest on a navigation stand on the Tennessee River near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.  Herbert Sides, a two-legged human, recently spotted the bird, mistaking it for a bald eagle.
Daily photo by John Godbey
An osprey is seen on and circling its nest on a navigation stand on the Tennessee River near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. Herbert Sides, a two-legged human, recently spotted the bird, mistaking it for a bald eagle.

Where ospreys nest

Feathered friend is no eagle!
If a Limestone fish hawk could talk, here's what she'd tell you

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — If I had hands instead of wings, I would write a sign for my nest that said, "No, I'm not a bald eagle."

I am not the symbol of America, even if I look like one at a distance.

I'm an osprey, or what some folks call a fish hawk, and I'm about 10 inches smaller than an eagle. It's the white head that gets people every time. I know I get antsy around people. I hover around my nest when the boats and Jet Skis zoom by. But if you look close enough to see the black stripe from my eye to my neck, and my white belly, that'll tip you off.

I know some boaters see my white head and automatically think "bald eagle." They point as they ride by my nest on this channel marker in the middle of the Tennessee River near Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.

There's good fishing here. Some big ol' catfish in this water, but let me get back to my point.

It irritates me when I'm mistaken for an eagle. For one thing, eagles are known to harass us for our catch.

And call me jealous, but eagles are so blame popular with you two-legged mammals. Americans don't display me with Old Glory on special holidays like Memorial Day. I'm no sports team's mascot.

But I think my species is pretty special.

For one thing, my mate and I are lucky to even be here to build a nest in Limestone County. Back in the 1950s through the 1970s, pesticide poisoning nationwide put my ancestors on a list no species wants to make, the endangered list.

That DDT stuff was rough. It caused eggshell thinning and embryo death. Thankfully, you humans woke up and banned that toxin, and our numbers have increased. Word has it that "Outdoor Alabama" now lists us as a "low conservation concern" for the state.

The pesticide hurt us because we love to eat fish, as I've already mentioned. We like building our nests around lakes and rivers in dead snag trees or anything manmade like power poles and channel markers.

We dive feet first into the water to snatch unsuspecting fish. It's even noted in the "Birds of Alabama Field Guide" by Stan Tekiela that we're the only raptors who plunge feet first. I'm pretty proud of that feat.

Our talons are sharp, too. Once my talons get a hold of a fish, it ain't going anywhere but on the supper menu.

I guess I shouldn't be so thinned-feathered, or as you humans might say, thinned-skinned about the bald eagle mix-up. A regular out here, Herbert Sides, spotted me recently when he was taking his grandchildren Huntley, Harrison and Hamilton for a boat ride.

He thought I was a bald eagle. So did the reporter and photographer he brought out here because they were at least nice enough not to get too close to my nest to get a good look.

I heard Herbert and his wife, Becky, were disappointed at first to learn I wasn't an eagle, but then they thought it still was kind of neat to see a nest in the middle of the river.

I heard Becky supposedly said, "Just think about how many trips the birds had to make get those twigs to the middle of the river to build a nest."

At least she appreciates our hard work!

And it's rumored Herbert still plans to bring his other grandchildren, Alexia and McKenzie, for a boat ride out here to see me and my nest.

It would be nice if one of the children would say, "Wow! Look at the osprey."

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