Osprey diet: What’s on the menu?

Hello Osprey observers! Our resident osprey biologist, Dr. Spitzer, is cataloguing Tom and Audrey’s fish intake and would greatly appreciate your help. When you observe Tom returning with a fish for the family, please post on Facebook the time of day and your best guess of the species and approximate size. Osprey Girl will then collect the information off of Facebook.

Fish species that you will likely see include:

Menhaden: A member of the Herring Family, the silvery, black spotted Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) primarily filter feeds for phytoplankton and zooplankton. They usually measure 4-8 inches, but may grow up to 15 inches long.  Easily distinguishable by their spots and deeply forked yellow tail.

Menhaden: A member of the herring family, the silvery- black spotted Atlantic Menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) primarily filter feeds for phytoplankton and zooplankton. They usually measure 4-8 inches, but may grow up to 15 inches long. They are easily distinguishable by their spots and deeply forked yellow tail.

White Perch: A small, silvery fish with a dark, highly domed back. It lives in fresh and brackish waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. White Perch (Morone Americana) can be identified by their spiny, dark dorsal fins. They usually measure 7-10 inches long. Look for the pointed and forked grey tail.

White Perch: A small, silvery fish with a dark, highly domed back that lives in fresh and brackish waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. White Perch (Morone Americana) can be identified by their spiny, dark dorsal fins and pointed, notched tail. They usually measure 7-10 inches long.

The Maryland state fish, the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), is a large, predatory fish with dark stripes running across silvery-metallic sides. Striped bass inhabit the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries year-round and will usually grow to 20 inches in length.  Look for the stripes!

Striped Bass (Rockfish): The Maryland state fish, the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), is a large, predatory fish with dark stripes running across silvery-metallic sides. Striped bass inhabit the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries year-round and will usually grow to 20 inches in length. Look for the stripes!

Oyster Toadfish:  A characteristically “ugly” fish with large bulging eyes, whiskers, and a scale-less flattened body. Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau) live in shallow oyster reefs throughout the Chesapeake Bay and will grow up to 12 inches long. Look for the rounded tail.

Oyster Toadfish: A characteristically “ugly” fish with large-bulging eyes, whiskers, and a scaleless flattened body. Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau) live in shallow oyster reefs throughout the Chesapeake Bay and will grow up to 12 inches long. Look for the rounded tail.

Catfish

There are six species of catfish in the Chesapeake, and telling them apart may be tricky. If you see one,  just list “catfish.” It may be one of the following:

Channel Catfish: A fish with a smooth greenish-grey body, whisker likes barbels around its mouth, and a silver-white belly. Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) live in fresh and brackish rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and will usually grow to about two feet long. Look for its spots and rounded anal fin.

Channel Catfish: A fish with a smooth, greenish-grey body, a silvery-white belly, and whisker likes barbels around its mouth. Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) live in fresh and brackish rivers throughout the Chesapeake Bay and will usually grow to about two feet long. Look for its spots and rounded anal fin.

Blue Catfish: Often confused with the channel catfish, the blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) is a large, smooth-skinned fish with a slate blue body and whisker-like barbels around its mouth. It was introduced to the region in the 1970s, and is now considered an invasive species. Adults will usually measure less than two feet. They will be more silver looking in color with no spots and a straight anal fin.

Blue Catfish: Often confused with the channel catfish, the blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus) has a large, silver-blue, smooth skinned body and whisker like barbels around its mouth. It was introduced to the region in the 1970s and is now considered an invasive species. Adults will usually measure less than two feet. They will have no spots and a straight anal fin.

Think you see something else? Check out the Chesapeake Bay Program’s field guide. Remember, Tom will often eat portions of the fish (especially the head) before returning to the nest. This could make the identification process a little more difficult. Observe away and remember to please only post your findings on Facebook!

[Images courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.]

10 thoughts on “Osprey diet: What’s on the menu?

  1. I have throroughly enjoyed watching Tom and Audrey. I often eat breakfast with then and had them on in the background at work. I shared your amazing website with my parents, who reside in the UK. Last Sunday, my mother shared with me that my dad had witnessed the fate of the third egg. According to her, the egg was broken open by one of the parents and the contents were fed to the two young osprey! The contents were clearly solid bits, too. My dad is probably not the only person watching at the time, but since one your the blog posts said that the fate of the egg remained a mystery, I thought I would pass it along.

    • Around what time? Osprey Girl is keeping track. If you have the ability to post your observations on the Conservancy’s Facebook page, that would be great. If not, I will keep checking here. Thanks for the observation, Mrs. COM

  2. …not sure how one is to benefit from these [excellent] fish descriptions when all Tom delivers to the nest are decapitated bloody carcases? ;=)

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