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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

Plate XVI. The fish hawk. (Pandion haliaetus.),   p. 16


Page 16


18                                 FISH HAWK.
Eagle, with which it often associates. In fact, the Sea Eagle so
much resembles the Bald Eagle, in the form of the bill, in its size,
in the shape of the legs and claws, differing from the latter only
in color, that it seems at once to be the same bird, distinguished
from the Bald Eagles previously observed simply by its age or
stage of color. Another circumstance corroborating such an in-
ference, is the variety of the colors of Sea Eagles; scarcely any
two of them are found to be colored alike, the plumage of each
being more or less shaded with light color or white. On some,
the chin, breast, and tail coverts are of a deep brown; on others,
these parts are much lighter, sometimes whitish, with the tail evi-
dently changing in color, and merging into white.
In former times some of the best informed ornithologists insisted
that Sea Eagles must be of a different kind from Bald Eagles, as,
on examination of the nests of each, it was found that both the par-
ent Sea Eagles were different in color from the parent Bald Eagles.
But it takes the Bald Eagles full four years to perfect their plum-
age, though the younger ones begin to breed in the second year.
These young ones passing for Sea Eagles, it is supposed that there
are a great many more Sea Eagles than Bald or White-headed
Eagles.
Almost everybody has heard or read stories of very young chil-
dren having been seized and carried off by a Bald or Sea Eagle.
But it is doubtful whether any of these terror-exciting tales would
bear a very close or critical examination. While the writer was
stopping at an inn in the Tyrol, the landlord entered the room one
afternoon in great haste, and, opening a window, discharged his
short rifle at a bird that was flying at too great a distance to be even
alarmed. He explained, by saying that he made it a point to kill,
or at least to shoot at, every Lammer-geier that came within sight,
as one of them had carried off the child of his best friend. The
name and residence of that friend having been given, he was vis-
ited, and the information imparted by him was, that a child had in
reality been carried off by a Lammer-geier-not one of his chil-
dren, as had been erroneously stated, but the child of an innkeeper
residing some fifteen miles distant. On visiting the innkeeper, it
was ascertained that the story was wholly without foundation in
fact.
The Sea Eagle is a coward. The present writer once climbed to
an Eagle's nest on a lofty yellow pine tree, standing near the bank
of a small creek, in the northern part of the State of New York.
During the progress of the climbing, the old Eagle flew about the
tree, screaming and making a hissing sound, but keeping at a re-
spectful distance from the climber. On reaching the nest, it was
found to consist of a large pile of sticks, cornstalks, rushes, and
some fibrous materials. The different layers showed that it had
answered a similar purpose for several successive years. It con-
tained two young Eagles that threw themselves at once upon their
backs and showed fight when they saw their visitor looking at them,
striking at him with their claws, making a peculiar rattling with
their beaks, opening them, and suddenly shutting them with a snap.
Not even when their young were lifted out of the nest and exam-
ined, did the old Eagles venture to attack the intruder, though they
sometimes came toward him in a direct line, with open beaks, with
their head feathers all erect, and seemingly in a terrible rage. But
when within four or five yards of the object of their fury, they sud-
denly turned off at a right angle, either to the right or left. After
the young Eagles had been examined for a quarter of an hour,
they were put back into the nest, and their visitor descended the
tree, to the great relief of their afflicted and fussy parents.
PLATE XVI.
The Fish Hawk. (Pandion haliaet us.)
The Fish Hawk bears also the name of Osprey, Fish Eagle, and
Fish Kite. Up to the present time it has been regarded as belong-
ing among the Eagles, from whom it differs in many respects. Its
right position seems to be that of a connecting link between Eagles
and Kites.
Fish Hawks are migratory birds, usually arriving on the North
American lakes in the latter part of March, sometimes later, and
departing during the closing days of September. They live ex-
clusively on fish, and of course their haunts are where their food
abounds. They build nests on high trees, constructed of stout
sticks, rushes, moss, seaweed, etc. The female lays two, some-
times three, handsome, oblong eggs, of a grayish white color, and
speckled all over with light reddish dots.
Their long wings enable Fish Hawks to continue with ease a long
time in the air. At the start for an excursion, they soar to a great
height, and then letting themselves down gradually, they begin
just above the level of the water their inspection for fish. This in-
spection is not, however, entered upon while there is a mist hang-
ing over the water. They come to the fishing-place by a circuitous
route, and ascertain, by cautiously looking about, whether any dan-
ger is to be apprehended. Alternately lowering themselves and
soaring to a height of fifty or sixty feet, they sometimes poise them-
selves to take a better aim at a fish seen in the water, and then dart
down with legs stretched forward in an oblique direction, disap-
pearing for a short time in the water, and then reappearing on the
surface, flapping their wings and shaking the water from their
feathers. If unlucky, away they fly, to return and try their for-
tune again. Whether lucky or not, they usually leave the smaller
ponds after their first endeavor. Their peculiar mode of fishing
necessitates the making of many a plunge to no purpose; but this
does not at all discourage them: their motto always is, "Try again."
They seldom suffer want, except when, on their arrival at the North,
they find the lakes and ponds still covered with ice.
When a Fish Hawk pounces upon a fish, he drives his claws
with such force into its back that they are not easily or very quickly
withdrawn. Very often, miscalculating the size and weight of the
fish, he endangers his own life, and sometimes loses it altogether,
by being drawn under the water by a heavy fish, and drowned. On
fish caught by this bird, there have been observed two holes on each
side of the back. This is explained by the fact that the Fish Hawk
can turn the outer toe either forward or backward, and that in seiz-
ing a fish, he turns this toe backward so as to get a firmer hold.
He flies off to the woods with such fish as he can conveniently carry,
to feast upon them there at leisure and in safety, but heavier fish
he drags to the shore.
Fish Hawks are never known to attack quadrupeds or birds for
the purpose of obtaining food. All aquatic birds are so well ac-
quainted with the Fish Hawk that they are never alarmed at his
approach. Grackles very often build their nests in the interstices
between the sticks in the Fish Hawks' nests, and both kinds of birds
live together in harmony. But other birds of prey, as the White
or Bald Eagles, or Sea Eagles, torment the Fish Hawk. As soon
as a Bald Eagle sees the Hawk with a fish, he chases, attacks, and
compels the Fish Hawk to drop his hard-earned booty, which the
robber Eagle seizes and appropriates to his own use.
Fish Hawks are greatly attached to their young, and defend them
to their utmost against both men and birds of prey. One of the
parents always remains near the nest, while the other is out fish-
ing. It is remarkable that the tree on which the nest of a Fish
Hawk is built, and where the young are reared, always withers and
dies in a short time afterward. Whether this is owing to some
poison imparted to the tree by the birds, or to the salt water con-
stantly dripping from the heavy moss of the nest, or to some other
cause, has not been satisfactorily settled.
On dissecting a Fish Hawk, there were found the two glands on
the rump, which supply the bird with oil wherewith to lubricate its
feathers, in order to protect them from injury by being frequently
wet. These glands were remarkably large, and contained a great
quantity of white greasy matter as well as yellow oil. The gall
was very small: but the intestines, with their numernno  windinnrs
18
FISH HAWK.
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