For as long as humans have fished Homosassa, from the first Paleo-fishermen who cast bone fish-hooks and nets into the river 14,000 years ago, to modern anglers with computerized fish finders, one thing that hasn’t changed is the dumbfounded look on their face when an osprey casually snatches a lunker from the water nearby.
With time, people realized there was no magic involved--it was simply physical adaptations that gave osprey’s their uncanny fishing skills. But, even the world's finest minds didn’t always get it right. In 1760, Albertus Magnus asserted that ospreys had one webbed foot for swimming and the other had talons. It took the curiosity and marksmanship of Carl Linnaeus to get an osprey “in the hand” and see there were no webs. Instead he found a pair of highly specialized fish-grabbers with long, strongly curved talons and spiny toe pads to help grasp the fish. He also realized that one of the front toes could twist backward, giving extra grip with two talons facing forward and two facing backward.
Of course this doesn't mean people had never seen an osprey up close. They had. In fact, during the age of chivalry, ospreys were raised by falconers in hopes of training them to hunt. It was a short-lived experiment, however, because the ospreys had their own idea of how the game was played. While they were happy to go catch a fish, they wouldn't bring it back to their handler. Instead they would find a perch and eat it before returning to their "master." (I wonder if they did their trademark fly-over, just to annoy their handler.)
But of all the quotes I can cram into this brief missive, the timeliest comes from Audubon, who noted that in late February, “the fish hawk had only eggs …when the young of the eagle were large and fully able to fly.” This accurately describes the current state of affairs on Homosassa and other local waterways. While winter-nesting bald eagles are now teaching their youngsters how to fly and hunt, the returning ospreys are just getting started:, courting, nest-building and even a bit of fishing, ever-willing to take a moment to give us a fly-by to proudly show us their catch.