One of the most common raptors you will see majestically soaring over K-Country is the Osprey. These distinctive birds of prey are fish eaters. They love the waters in K-Country, including the Upper and Lower K-Lakes, Spray Lakes, the Kananaskis and Bow Rivers, Lac Des Arcs and pretty much any other body of water that has fish in it. We’ve even watched a pair of Osprey competing with the people fishing at the stocked Mt. Lorette Ponds.
Ospreys regularly nest in Canmore near the Grassi Lakes trailhead, plus over by the Engine Bridge. There are two nests within meters of the TransCanada Highway in the Bow Valley. They build large nests on the tops of trees – especially dead trees – made out of sticks. Get too close to the nest and you’ll easily hear their shrieking call!
To an osprey, a power pole is a perfect nesting site. In order to not electrocute the birds, power companies build nesting platforms near the power lines as a safer alternative. Annually, Fortis puts a camera on a nesting pole in Exshaw and streams it live on YouTube. It’s fun to spend the summer watching the birds lay and hatch the eggs, then raise their young.
Superbly adapted fishermen
Ospreys have a small head that has less drag in the water. Their feathers are waterproof. Their feet are designed to hold a fish while in flight. Two toes point forward, two backward (you can see that in the photo to the right). The soles of their feet have rough scales to hold slippery fish.
Ospreys actually carry their fish facing forwards and parallel to their flight path to reduce drag, as you can see in the photo to the left. Bald eagles carry fish at 90° to their flight path, which is much less aerodynamic!
How to identify them
Ospreys can be identified in flight at a distance by the distinctive “W” shape of their wings, as you can see in the photo below. They have white bellies and brown wings tops, and are white and brown underneath. Other things that set them apart from other raptors such as Eagles include the dark brown band that runs through their eyes.
There is virtually no difference in size or colour between males and females. Mating pairs return to the same nests year after year. Once you find a pair, you get to see them year after year.
Learn more about the critters of Kananaskis here!