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Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - Page updated at 07:53 AM


Nickname wings it in world of birds

Seattle Times medical reporter

The discouraging word is out: Some say there is no seahawk — the bird, that is.

Experts say so. Only a few nature references use the term. Even officials with the Seahawks — the team, that is — say it's a fictitious bird. And the trained bird that flies around Qwest Field before football games is actually an augur hawk or augur buzzard, native to East Africa.

Even so, some references declare that seahawk is a nickname for an osprey, a fish-eating raptor found the world over. With a black eye-streak on the side of its head, it looks somewhat like a Seahawk — the team logo.

So many fans love to believe. That includes television host Ellen DeGeneres, who the other day called our Super Bowl-bound team the "Seattle Ospreys."

As it turns out, the osprey is one cool bird.

It's white and brown, with a wingspan up to 6 feet. It's fast, strong and smart. A flashy lover. It doesn't mind being around humans. The definitive reference book, "The Birds of North America," calls the osprey America's most studied raptor, "and certainly one of its most admired."

The osprey, also called a fish hawk, patrols its watery hunting grounds daily. When it spots its prey, it can hover as high as 100 feet in the air, then fold its wings and streak to the water, huge talons extended, to snatch a fish from the surface or even plunge beneath.

Learn more about seahawks, er, osprey ...

Cornell University:


U.S. Geological Survey:

On the air: The Seattle Audubon Society will feature the osprey/seahawk on "Bird Note" at 8:58 a.m. Friday on KPLU-FM (88.5). Also online at

"They are the consummate fishermen," said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington biologist who specializes in marine birds.

Seattle fans, not ornithologists, came up with "Seahawks" in a 1975 name contest. And since then, ospreys, like the Seahawks themselves, have made a big comeback.

The pesticide DDT caused the population to decline drastically from the 1950s to the '70s, until the chemical was banned in the United States in 1972. Then the osprey came back like gangbusters.

"They're increasing all the time in Washington and all across North America," said ornithologist Dennis Paulson, director emeritus of the Slater Museum of Natural History at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.

Now scientists estimate that nearly 15,000 pairs nest in the U.S. And 870 nests have been found in Washington over the past 28 years.

The birds will miss the Super Bowl, though. They winter in Latin America. And the Washington contingent won't return till April.

Then, if you're lucky, you might see one near Qwest Field. As many as nine pairs nest along the Duwamish River. About 26 nests have been found around Everett Harbor.

"They're a cool raptor, because they nest not only in established landscapes, but also in developed areas," said Parrish.

In fact, ospreys will make their huge, 250-pound nests on anything tall near the water — broken trees, telephone poles, channel markers, cellphone towers — though sometimes they build on rocks or flat ground.

Typically, the birds lay three white eggs, speckled with brown, which hatch in about 38 days.

Ospreys mate for life, which can be as long as 25 years. Still, each spring they put on a big show to renew their vows.

The male flies high, dives down, then gracefully arcs back up. Sometimes, the female pursues him. The male also may fly slowly by the nest, holding a fish or a branch.

"They're basically saying, 'Look at what I can do. Mate with me and I'll be good at catching prey for you,' " said Paulson.

Warren King: 206-464-2247 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company





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