Its name is derived from a Greek myth of betrayal, revenge, murder and mayhem – that of the daughters of Pandion, the mythical King of Athens, who were turned into birds (as was the habit back then).
But it is better known as the Osprey, the Sea Hawk or the Fish Hawk, a medium-sized bird of prey common to the Pacific Northwest, drawn here by an abundance of its favorite food – fish.
And though when young baseballers and softballers take a trip to the ballfield they aren’t always expecting an encounter with these wonderful creatures of the wild, that is exactly what they get here in Issaquah.
For about the last decade, a family of Osprey has made its home atop a light pole at Tibbetts Valley Park sports fields at the intersection of Newport Way NW and State Route 900. The nest of sticks and twigs, between 3 and 4 feet in diameter, sits snugly on top of a 90 foot pole, nestled in among a structure of light fixtures. Every now and then visitors to the park watch on in wonder as a bird launches from the nest and glides over Tibbetts Creek and back around, its 6 foot wingspan catching every breeze up there. It is quite a sight.
According to City of Issaquah Parks and Recreation Department Open Space Steward Matt Mechler, the nest, and the Osprey’s that occupy it, have been a feature of the park for some time.
“Every spring we see the birds doing a few repairs on the nest,” he said. “They work on it every year – it’s been up there for at least 10 years now. Usually we get some comments about it when there are a lot of people using the park during baseball season. Some of them want to know what it is, whether the birds are okay.”
Mechler said a number of Osprey young had been raised in the nest, a strong indication it was a safe and secure home for the birds. A few years ago a contractor climbed the pole to replace the light bulbs in the fixture.
“He said that everything was okay up there – the nest wasn’t interfering with the wiring or anything like that,” Mechler said.
The family of Osprey’s did have a close call during spring last year, when a much larger Bald Eagle swooped down onto the nest with the idea of making a meal of one of the Osprey chicks.
“It was right in the middle of a little league game,” Mechler recalled. Like front row seats for a live production of the National Geographic Channel, parents and children looked on in horror and amazement as the Osprey fought off the Bald Eagle, protecting its young. But in the heat of the battle one of the Osprey chicks fell from the nest and plummeted 90 feet to the ground below.
All’s well that ends well, however. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff came and rescued the young bird, and nursed it back to health.
Though most people wouldn’t think left-center field would be the ideal home for a family of Osprey, according to Mechler, a residence in Tibbetts Valley Park suits their lifestyle perfectly.
“Pretty much all they eat is fish, so they really like to be close to water,” he said. “The nest is right next to the creek, and not far from Lake Sammamish.”
In fact, fish make up about 99 percent of their diet. Ospreys hunt by diving into the water from up to 100 feet in the air. They propel themselves through the water, use special gripping pads on their feet to help them grab the fish. Osprey are one of the only birds whose feathers allow them to still fly immediately after being fully submerged in water. Eagles, for example, are usually limited to plucking fish near the surface of the water as they fly by. In flight, Ospreys will orient the fish headfirst, to minimize wind resistance.
The average Osprey grows to a body length of 21 – 24 inches, and between 2.5 – 4.5 pounds.
As the human environment continues to encroach on its natural habitat, the Osprey is making the best of artificial structures like light poles and communications towers. Mechler said another Osprey family had made its home on top of a cell tower alongside East Lake Sammamish Parkway, across from the Issaquah Fred Meyer store. Recently the city built a specially designed Osprey nesting platform at the nearby Emily Darst Park. But it seems that particular family has a strong attachment to their little home.
“We were hoping they would relocate to the platform in the park, but as yet we haven’t had much success,” Mechler said.
If you see an injured or distressed bird, call the Everitt office of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 425-775-1311, or visit wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation