Welcoming back spring birds

Published 10:48 pm Friday, March 5, 2021

Ospreys are back!  Pairs and individuals have been seen this past week in Broad Creek at Pamlico Plantation, over the Pamlico River at the Washington Riverwalk, from Dinah’s Landing in Goose Creek State Park and on the south side of the Pamlico near the Bayview-Aurora ferry terminal.  Sometimes called by their older name “Fish Hawk,” watch them plunge impressively to capture fish in their talons, then carry the prey (which they orient headfirst, like a bomb under an aircraft) to a perch on a tall snag.

Ospreys are sometimes mistaken for Bald Eagles but may be distinguished as follows:  The head of an Osprey has white and dark markings together, with a big stripe through the eye, but mature Bald Eagles have a massive, plain white head and prominent lemon-yellow beak, as well as the big white tail.  Juvenile eagles are mottled light and dark.  The Osprey has kinked “elbows” (really wrists) in its spread wings when soaring, making their silhouette resemble an “M”, whereas eagles soar plank-like with wings spread flat.  And the eagle is a much bigger bird, though size is hard to estimate as a bird soars.  A Bald Eagle will often harass a fishing Osprey and try to take its prey.

Also beginning to return to our region are Laughing Gulls.  These will gradually replace the wintering Ring-Billed Gulls, which will clear out by June or July to the northern tier states and Canada.  They are recognized by black heads (on adults) and of course their loud laughing calls, the memorable sound of every summer ferry trip to Ocracoke.  Hahahaha, HA, HA, HA, HA, ha!

Brown Thrashers have been very vocal as the days lengthen and they begin their spring songs, like many birds now.  Thrashers are one of the three “mimic thrushes” of the Eastern United States:  the mockingbird, the catbird, and the thrasher.  All mimic other birds’ songs, as well as making their own characteristics calls and songs.

You can tell which mimic thrush you are listening to because the Northern Mockingbird repeats its phrases three times; the Brown Thrasher twice; and the Catbird once, and in a rather garbled way.  There’s a “mimic thrush trifecta” right now at the little brushy wetland in front of the North Carolina Estuarium, where all three of these species are present in the evenings.

It’s fun to practice your birdsong recognition skills by listening to a mockingbird or thrasher and attempting to name which songbird it’s imitating.


Betsy Kane is a Washington resident who enjoys the outdoors.