On Guard

Rebecca Cruz

Orlando, United States

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Artist's Description

A male osprey perches above a nesting female on the Ocklawaha River in Central Florida.

The Ocklawaha River is the principal tributary of the St. Johns River and forms the western boundary of the Ocala National Forest. The 110 mile long river flows north from Central Florida until it joins the St. Johns River near Palatka, Florida.

The river has suffered severe ecological damage in the 20th century from fertilizer runoff, dredging, pollution and rerouting. The river narrowly escaped becoming part of the Cross Florida Barge Canal.

The Osprey is a fish-eating specialist, with live fish accounting for about 99% of its diet. Barbed pads on the soles of its feet help it grip slippery fish. When an Osprey takes a large fish to its nest, it carries the fish headfirst to make it as aerodynamic as possible.

Osprey eggs do not hatch all at once, but instead the first chick hatches out up to five days before the last one. The older chick dominates its younger siblings, and can monopolize the food brought by the parents. If food is abundant, little aggression is seen amongst the chicks, but if food is limited, the younger chicks often starve.

Osprey numbers declined drastically in 1950-1970s, from pesticide poisoning and eggshell thinning. After the ban on DDT, populations increased rapidly. Still listed as endangered or threatened in some states, especially in inland states where populations were small or after the pesticide years.

Artwork Comments

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