As early blooms peak through the soil and the first leaves start to appear on area trees, that means Lake Allatoona osprey will soon return to their nesting sites for spring hatching season. Each year, pairs of these large birds of prey begin the mating season in March and April, before the female lays her eggs in a large nest high up in tall trees or man-made structures.
At Lake Allatoona, ospreys have more places to nest since 1998, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia Power began a cooperative program to erect nesting platforms at six locations around the lake. Georgia Power provided 40-foot-tall poles for the nests, and the Corps and Georgia Power provided equipment and manpower to erect the nesting towers. More towers were added in 2013.
According to Army Corps of Engineers reports, the osprey population at Lake Allatoona has grown from one pair of nesting birds in 1995 to more than a dozen pairs in recent years. Considered an endangered species in the 1970s due to the environmental impacts of DDT, osprey have rebounded in recent decades. The species was removed from the endangered list in 1983, but is still protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Early in the mating season, male osprey can be seen performing a mating flight or "fish dance" high above the lake and nearby hillsides. The male osprey will soar high in the air, then tread air before diving more than 100 feet, rising quickly and treading air again. The male may repeat the dance multiple times to attract the attention of a nearby female.
The female osprey lays her eggs in the April-May timeframe in North Georgia. While the eggs incubate, both the male and female osprey tend the nest. Once the young birds hatch, the adult pair share duties, though the female tends and defends the nest more, while the male does most of the food-gathering. The young ospreys take their first flights approximately 55 days after hatching, and remain in the nest tended to by the adults for approximately 100 days, reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Once paired, osprey are believed to be largely monogamous and faithful to both the mate and nest. Paired ospreys will live in the same area and return to the same nest for years, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Where to See Lake Allatoona Ospreys
WIth more than a dozen man-made nesting platforms and other natural sites, it's not unusual to see ospreys soaring high above Lake Allatoona. The impressive large birds have a wingspan of over five feet. Due to their size and white heads, they often are confused with the larger bald eagle. Ospreys hover above the water, locate their fish prey and then swoop down to capture shallow-swimming fish with their talons extended. A reversible fourth toe and short spines on the undersides of each foot help them grasp slippery fish.
The Army Corps of Engineers does not publish a map with osprey nesting locations. Made-made nesting platforms can be spotted near the shoreline of the lake atop utility-style poles. One example is located along the Allatoona Battlefield Park hiking trail. A natural nest also has been seen in the steel girders of the Red Top Mountain Road bridge leading to Red Top Mountain State Park.
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