Ospreys to show off at Flaming Gorge

This osprey is returning to its nest. The birds can live up to 15 years. Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Summer is a great time for road trips. And if said road trip ends in a unique wildlife-viewing experience? Even better. Folks can see ospreys in the air and on top of their huge nests at a free Utah Division of Wildlife Resources event on Saturday, July 13.

Ospreys, sometimes called fish hawks or sea hawks, are unique birds of prey that primarily eat fish, which is why they are drawn to the Flaming Gorge area. They are the only hawk in North America that eats a diet that’s almost exclusively fish. And they are very good at plucking fish out of the water.

“They catch a fish one out of every four times they dive,” Tonya Kieffer-Selby, DWR conservation outreach manager, said. “That’s a great success rate.”

Osprey can log more than 160,000 migratory miles in their 10- to 15-year life span. And Flaming Gorge draws them like a magnet.

“The largest breeding osprey colony in Utah, and one of the largest osprey populations in the interior part of the western United States, is found at the reservoir,” Kieffer-Selby said.

Osprey return to Flaming Gorge every year to breed and raise their young because a breeding pair will build on the same nest year after year. It’s fairly common to see a 10-foot wide nest at Flaming Gorge.

The free event will be held next to the parking lot at the Flaming Gorge Dam visitor center. The visitor center is in Dutch John, at the south end of Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northeastern Utah. The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon.

Spotting scopes will be available, but those who have their own binoculars are encouraged to bring them to see the birds. Biologists and displays will also be available to provide information. And due to the remote nature of the event, attendees should consider bringing a lunch, sunscreen, bug spray and plenty of water.

“The birds are super active this time of year, especially during the morning hours,” Kieffer-Selby said. “The event is great for the whole family. And while you’re there, you may also want to take the Flaming Gorge Dam tour. If you take the tour, you might see some of the large rainbow trout that osprey love to eat.”

Osprey are fairly easy to spot along rivers, ponds and reservoirs because they have a distinct white head with a brown stripe that runs through their bright, yellow eyes.

“If you are lucky, you might be watching right at the moment an osprey decides to dive feet first into the water to capture a fish in its powerful talons,” Kieffer-Selby said. “After capturing a fish, an osprey will carry it back to its perch or nest and share it with its mate and young. You’ll also hear the ospreys’ shrieking calls as they fly around the area.”

In addition to ospreys, visitors may see other birds of prey, including golden eagles, turkey vultures and American kestrels, which are frequently spotted at the annual event.

While the event is free, attendees are asked to register. For more information, call Kieffer-Selby at the DWR’s office in Vernal at 435-781-9453.