By Al Higgins

A sure sign of spring on Delmarva is the arrival of the beautiful ospreys. Often referred to as fish hawks, ospreys arrive on the Shore around the middle of March to nest and raise their young, and generally they leave for warmer climates at the end of August. During their time here they feed heavily on fish, with white perch and menhaden being favorite prey.

Ospreys are easily identified when in flight. Their gull-like swept back wings are distinctive, as are their white belly and dark brown wings and upper body. Commonly they are seen circling high in the air searching for a fish that is high in the water column. Once a fish is spotted the bird collapses it wings and dives into the water with its talons outstretched. The bird often completely disappears below the water’s surface, only to appear seconds later with the fish hanging from its talons. In flight, ospreys orient the fish head first to ease wind resistance.

Nesting pairs team-up for life and usually return to the same nesting site year after year. The males are the first to arrive and tackle the chore of repairing any winter damage to the nest. It is common to see an osprey fly directly into a tree as it attempts to break off dead branches for use in its nest. Within a month two to four eggs are laid and hatch in about 40 days. Due to the high density of ospreys in the Chesapeake Bay area sexual maturity may not occur until the birds are five to seven years old.

Ospreys can be found on every continent except Antarctica and in many cases the birds migrate south for long distances. The ospreys of the Chesapeake Bay normally overwinter in South America, although a few stop short and spend the winter in southern Florida. 

As an update on the upcoming rockfish season, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has announced a significant change in the early “Trophy rockfish” season. The season opens on May 1 and extends to May 15. During that period one fish is allowed and it must be a minimum of 35”. 

Regulations for the summer and fall seasons have yet to be decided.