The Poets’ Birds: The Osprey Returns

Osprey, or Fish Hawk ~ John James Audubon

Three years ago, I added the osprey to my Poets’ Birds series, with an entry by our former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins.

In the series, I’ve always turned to other poets to highlight the beauty of the birds and the immense satisfaction that comes with observing them. But when our ospreys returned last week, the thrill of hearing their calls echo across the water as they rode north winds back into their winter home was unusually sharp.

On Thursday, there was one bird. On Friday, there were more than a dozen. By Monday of this week, there were birds perched on masts throughout the marinas, chattering and calling to one another as they sorted out their territories. Today, there is this poem: my own tribute to these magnificent birds, composed in the form of an Etheree.


The Return of the Osprey

their calls;
sharper still
their crisp, sweet flight
from autumn’s falling
darkness. Silhouetted
wings stir warm and limpid air
’til remembered fragrance lifts and
swirls, redolent of familiar
prey: the salt-tanged, unknowing, unlucky.


Comments always are welcome.
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here.

111 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: The Osprey Returns

  1. It had been quite a while since you were the authoree of an Etheree, and I was wondering when there’d be another. The syllable count in that form, along with your description of the osprey’s prey, reminds me of those years when the speed limit was kept to an artificially low 55 m.p.h.

    1. I was wondering when there’d be another, myself. I can’t just sit down and write one. Instead, there has to be a trigger: a line or phrase that’s recognizable as Etheree material as soon as it comes to mind. It’s an odd experience.

      I was surprised to find 75 mph speed limits on two-lane roads cutting through the country in east Texas. I was even more surprised to read that the limit on the southern portion of the 130 Toll Road is 85 mph. Here come the Three Bears: 55 is too slow, 85 seems too fast, but 70 is just right.

  2. It is indeed a magnificent bird. We saw one yesterday take a fish, but most of its brethren have already left for the year. I am sure they would all enjoy your poem were they only able to read it! Well done!

    1. One of the pleasures of meeting people in different parts of the world through blogs and other sites is learning something about where ‘our’ birds go when they’re not here. A few years ago, I was in Minnesota in late October, and there were rafts of coots; not so many weeks later, they began filling up our ponds and marshes. Any poem written about the coots would have to be humorous!

  3. The “Fish Eagle” is also a companion when camped on a high country lake, in the Winds, Beartooths, or Rockies…wherever there is cold water and fish. A beautiful creature and poem. Thanks, Linda.

    1. What a glorious sight that would be. Here, they get warmer water and different fish, but their fishing technique works just as well. Watching them hover and dive is such a pleasure, and their calls are just beautiful. I love hearing them ‘talk’ to one another from mast to mast.

  4. Dear Linda
    it’s ages ago that I read an Etheree. I heard about this form of a poem during my studies and the professor gave us some examples but I haven’t come across this form ever since. It’s American if I remember it correctly. In European poetry, it’s hardly ever used.
    Thanks for sharing
    and the rest of The Fab Four of Cley

    1. It is American, Klausbernd. It’s named for Etheree Taylor Armstrong (1918-1994), the Arkansas poet who came up with the form. She’s buried in that state, in the little town of Magnet Cove. I visited the town, and did a bit of research, but I need another trip to round out a very interesting story.

      I enjoy working with the form. If you search this blog using ‘etheree’ as your search term, there are several; I’m not sure how many. At first, I focused only on syllable count, but over time I found ways to begin doing more interesting things within the form.

  5. Beautiful Linda. Thinking about your winter visitors on the lake by the bay as I already miss my influx of fall hummingbirds… maybe a second wave will appear as you welcome more of your seasonal arrivals.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, Gary. I certainly am enjoying the ospreys. As for those hummingbirds, mine have disappeared. I’m sure they rode out of town on our recent north wind. I saw even more Monarchs over the bay, today. It’s time to begin tracking them, too.

      1. I’ll keep all of the feeders up for another week or two before I start cutting back to one off each porch for my year round residents.

  6. I always learn something interesting from your blog. This time I had to look up the Osprey to see where they spend time in the summer months and much to my surprise I learned we have we have 75 known nests here in Michigan.

    1. You have some passionate osprey advocates, too. One of the neatest projects I read about involves putting little ‘backpacks’ on some Michigan ospreys, allowing people to track their migrations. Webcams, of course, give the nest view. Their numbers have been increasing in your state, especially in the southeastern part. They’re wonderful birds to watch; there’s nothing more exciting than watching an osprey chick leave the nest.

  7. Wonderful poem, Linda, and I learned about an Etheree as a bonus. I always enjoyed watching the Ospreys along the Indian River when we lived in Florida. I was surprised to see one resting on a power pole near my house here in the Hill Country some months ago. My bird guides say they can be found around here, but I’d never seen one here before.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, Charles. I enjoyed your mention of Indian River. Say ‘Indian River’ to me, and of course I’ll respond ‘grapefruit’!

      I’ve never thought of Ospreys as Florida birds, but it makes sense that they’d be there. Water and fish are all they need, and Florida has those in abundance.

      It’s great that you got to see one in your area. My first thought was that they might hang out around Medina Lake, and sure enough, they’re mentioned in this article about the Medina birding loop.

      1. Thanks for the link to the Medina Loop info. The Osprey on the power pole was about a half mile as the Osprey flies from the top of Medina Lake, where the river is ending and the lake is beginning.

        Ospreys were a common sight as I drove down US 1 along the Indian River in the stretch between Melbourne and Vero Beach. I’m sure the river was a great hunting ground for them. There’s a town of Osprey in Florida, but it’s over on the Gulf Coast, north of Venice.

    1. The connection between ospreys and fish is so strong that even Audubon saw fit to portray them both in his illustration. Something else I learned and eventually saw is that they carry their fish just that way: parallel to their bodies, facing forward. I don’t like to carry my camera to work, for a variety of reasons, but this year I think I will. I’d love to have a decent photo of one.

  8. Saw so many enormous osprey nests atop of posts along the Shoshone River in Wyoming and yes! It’s darkening and cooling up in Montana. Soon the bears will take a long nap and by then the ospreys will all be sunbathing at the harbor, singing to you all.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful — even soul-stirring — to witness the great migrations? While humans do their best to create chaos, the orders of nature continue. Even our non-migratory species are showing awareness of the coming winter. For someone who enjoys prowling the banks of the bayous, sluggish alligators are the best alligators.

  9. You captured the osprey well in your poem. They are lovely birds.

    One of Dad’s delights, after he was housebound, was an osprey nest cam I found for him. He said he could watch it for hours.

    We get lots of them here during nesting season and there are quite a few platforms set up for them, some of which can be seen as you drive along I526 and the Isle of Palms connector.

    1. Breeding ospreys are rare in Texas. The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas shows only three confirmed sites. There may be more, of course, but we’re more of a vacation spot than a place to raise the kids.

      Did you use the Cornell osprey cams? I watched the one in Missoula for a while this year. As of September 8, the female (named Iris) still was at the nest, but I’m sure she’s headed south by now; she may even be at her destination.

      1. No, it was a cam in NC sponsored by Alcoa. The nest was on a dam on the ….oh, drat, forgot the name of the river. I don’t think it’s active any longer.

    1. There’s nothing scary about ospreys –unless you’re a fish or frog. They are compelling creatures, and it always surprises me how glad I am to hear their song in the fall. Of course, there comes a time when they’re notable by their sudden absence, but that’s part of their cycle, too. They don’t care how their presence or absence affects us: they just stay true to their path.

  10. I’ve missed your beautiful Etherees, Linda, so this one’s a real treat! What a majestic bird. I don’t think we get many here — they probably linger more often around water sources where there are fish to dine on — but perhaps they pass overhead on their way to some place else. I’m glad you got to enjoy so many of them!

    1. For whatever reason, writing’s been hard recently; I suspect a combination of physical exhaustion from working the ghastly summer heat and mental exhaustion from coping with the world’s foolishness. In any case, it appears my muse is still alive and well, and not a resident here.

      I found it interesting that Illinois ospreys winter in Florida, Mexico, and South America. I was even more fascinated to find that an osprey I’ve watched on a Cornell bird cam in Montana was spotted in Texas!

    1. That’s one of the best combinations in the world — unless they’re tears of pity and smiles of condescension.. I don’t really think that’s the case here, though!

  11. We had one Osprey we named Oscar who wintered with us on the coast. The last year we were there two others showed up. I can still hear his call as he swooped over the house. Thanks for the memory. A beautiful poem, Linda.

      1. That article was fascinating, Linda. We know Oscar left every year and it is interesting to note he may go back to Montana. He was a bigger bird so I’m sure he migrated home eacy year. Thanks for the article.

  12. Osprey–such magnificent bird! I don’t see them around my area, but I know they’re in Central Texas. Just yesterday on FB Birds of Texas, someone posted a photo of one at Lakeway. I suppose where there’s water and fish, there are osprey. I like the end of that poem: “…unknowing, unlucky.” So it is in nature.

    1. That’s exactly what the Cornell site says; all that’s needed for ospreys to set up housekeeping is water and fish. Of course they need a little room to maneuver, too, so any fish in your pond are safe from them, if not the herons.

      When I get stuck in the construction traffic on the bridge separating Clear Lake from Galveston Bay, I sometimes get to watch them hovering above the water from their level – it makes sitting on the bridge much more enjoyable. Their dives are so fast those unlucky fish probably never see them coming.

  13. How exciting that your ospreys have returned. And how wonderful they inspired you to write poetry. Thank you for teaching me another verse form–I had never heard of an etheree. Interestingly, it’s not an entry in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

    1. Etherees aren’t that well known, and it may be that their relative newness as a form has kept them out of the dictionary. On the other hand, I laugh when I remember my visit to the high school in Etheree Taylor Armstrong’s town. She may have become famous for her poetry form, but the English teacher I talked to never had heard of her. There’s a more extensive story to be written about all that, but I need to get back to Arkansas before doing it.

    1. It took some fiddling to get both bird and fish into the poem, but both needed to be there. Put this bird atop a mast rather than in a tree, and you’ll get a sense of what I’ll listen to now until spring. It’s easy to know when one has dined atop the mast, too. They’re messy eaters, and every now and then I have the pleasure of cleaning fish entrails off the deck.

  14. I’m glad your ospreys have a safe haven to return to. Raptors of any stripe are such sleek and beautiful birds. Glad to see you writing again.

    1. Glad to be writing again, too. I feared my muse had landed here, but apparently not. You’re right about the raptors generally. It won’t be long until the hawk migrations begin again. Every year our NWS office posts images of them from radar, or provides links for live tracking. It’s fascinating to watch bats, dragonflies, roosting birds, and raptors on radar, as well as in real life.

  15. Lovely Etheree to celebrate the Osprey. It was years ago when I saw my first and only Osprey in early autumn at the cabin lake just north of us. I would imagine it was migrating south for the season and stopped at the large body of water to fetch a snack before continuing its journey. I shall not forget the shrill calls to others, hidden along the heavily-wooded lakeside.

    1. I’ve seen exactly one osprey in Oklahoma. I was crossing Lake Eufala at the time, and there it was, hovering above the water. Their calls are unmistakable, and when they return, I always hear them calling before I see them. It’s such great fun to listen to them calling to one another. Sometimes one over the lake will ‘converse’ with another in the suburbs some distance away. I don’t know how far those calls will carry, but it’s quite far.

  16. Excellent poem, Linda. Unknowing & Unlucky. Funny how those two seem to find each other, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, fellow travelers coming to a bad end, but a great ending for your poem.

    1. It’s always tempting to feel sorry for the prey, but as human fishermen attest, the fish that gets caught usually has a belly full of smaller fish, so it sort of evens out. It’s also true that no osprey is a hundred percent successful in its hunts; one in four is what I read. Of course, the one that’s caught makes a better poetic ending than the three that get away.

    1. I hope you do get a close view of one. It’s a memorable experience. They’re not only skilled predators, they’re quite beautiful. I did read that their capture rate is about one-in-four, so some of those fish get away. It’s unfortunate for the osprey, but there are some lucky fish, too.

  17. A lovely poem, an inspiring illustration and a fascinating subject.

    The Osprey is ubiquitous in Florida and it is easy to take them for granted. I grew up with them as constant companions on the lakes of central Florida, where they consistently showed me the proper way to catch a fish.

    My day has been uplifted because an Osprey triggered you to compose an Etheree.

    1. Now, that made me laugh. Did you have to do some creative filing of your toenails to mimic the grip of those talons?

      I’m going to break my rules about camera safety and keeping my focus on my work when I’m working, and take my camera with me today. One of the ospreys spent a full hour atop a neighboring mast yesterday afternoon, and I suffered from an acute case of camera deprivation. They’re too far away or too high for my lens most of the time, but with the right angle, atop a 55′ mast ought to be doable.

    1. Well, now — that’s high praise, Arti! On the other hand, the poems have different subjects. Mine’s about the bird, while Collins’s is more about the birth of curiosity. Both are needed for birding, of course!

    1. In truth, much of my love for them is based in the fact that they are a prey bird. Watching their hunts, and seeing their skill in capturing a fish from high in the sky, is marvelous. Our bays and lakes are shallow, but I’ve read that when they’re hunting in deep water, they’ll sometimes plunge completely underwater before emerging with dinner.

      I’m glad they’re back, too, and now I’m eager for all the birds that will follow: the coots, the white pelicans, the whooping cranes, the sandhills. It’s that time of year.

      1. That would be cool to see! I just saw a hawk catch a mouse once and felt so sorry for the mouse that I’ve been a little prejudiced toward prey birds ever since. Not logical, I know, since so many animals are predators and they have to eat. Nature isn’t gentle. But I can certainly see how the skill and grace of the ospreys would win someone over!

  18. I don’t think I’ve seen an osprey in real life. If I did it didn’t register. They have pretty coloring. I bet your time spent watching them will be interesting.

    1. It would be easy to confuse one with an eagle, or even a hawk, if they’re spotted at a distance. Because they feed primarily on fish, they do hang around lakes, so that helps with identification. They’re not pretty in the same way that a cardinal or bluebird is ‘pretty,’ but they’re quite handsome, and their calls are surprisingly musical.

  19. Love this. I was expecting the claws to be sharp, and so was delighted with the surprise. Thanks also for the Collins poem. I watched his “Masterclass” on poetry and loved it.

    1. I wonder if you see them in your area. I’d suspect so, since you’re given to spending time on or around the water. Audubon got it right, I think; showing the osprey with a fish is only right, since they’re so closely associated in nature. You’ve mentioned Collins’ masterclass before. Since you speak so highly of it, and since I do enjoy his poetry, I might give it a go myself.

  20. Love this piece and so glad you shared it with us, Linda! Osprey, the little bandits, are literally one of my favourite birds (and so glad they’ve made such a strong comeback over the years: ) but isn’t it wonderful when The Words just come; unbidden, preformed; dancing in your mind like a swirl of Autumn leaves dropped suddenly in a colourful cluster at your feet?

    1. It would be wonderful if The Words came like that, but the best I usually get are a few scattered leaves, rather than a swirl. It takes some raking to create the leafy cluster!

      I hadn’t realized until I started learning about them that the ospreys had suffered through a serious decline, thanks to DDT and other factors. They’re certainly secure now, and a pleasure to have around.

      1. I’m sure the push-back against DDT wouldn’t have happened without the threat to the American Eagle.
        Now all we need is something with equal emotional impact to raise the Public Ire against these newest threats we’re facing…

        1. Maybe we need to ratchet things down a bit at this point, and increase understanding. There seems to be plenty of free-floating ire in the world just now!

          1. I would be only too willing to help, as you say “increase understanding”, but there are so many desperate voices calling out into the darkness needing to be heard these days…

  21. I’m so glad the Etheree muse provided you the seed for your poem. I can almost hear the osprey’s call.
    My favorite memory of an osprey is the osprey nest I saw at a pond in New Hampshire. I got to watch an adult fly in and out of the nest at the top of a tree, though I didn’t see the little ones. A beautiful bird.

    1. They are beautiful. It’s wonderful that we can watch them via the various sophisticated camera setups provided around the country, but seeing them live is a different sort of experience. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a nest, but I’ve spent so much time looking at their undersides atop various masts I think I could pick them out of a lineup of bird bellies!

            1. It’s been many years since we read it here, but according to a Wiki Fandom article, “Hooch had short grey hair and yellow, hawk-like eyes[2].” – not surprising really for a flying instructor and Quidditch Coach; ) Perhaps she is modelled directly after the Osprey, as they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. LOL, even her hair style resembles that of the hawk in your YouTube video the other day – all fluffed up in every direction!

          1. I bet she was terrifying for more than her eyes. I had a high school teacher I was scared of, a big hulking coach who taught a typing class. I was crummy at typing, and thought he’d flunk me. He didn’t.

    1. It’s especially fun to watch them soaring above the lake while I work. When the winds are up a bit, they sometimes seem to be playing rather than fishing: circling up into the air and paying not one bit of attention to the water. Even ospreys know that all work and no play — etc.!

  22. Oh, wonderful. Really. Love it. We’ve been watching the geese land in the pasture every evening just about sunset. They fill my heart with pleasure. You just can’t beat nature.

    1. I’m so glad you like the poem, Bella! And I agree. There’s some of that “red in tooth and claw” business that necessarily goes on in nature. Everybody has to eat, after all. But in nature, things fit together in some wonderful ways. As we learn to read the signs, we can watch nature’s rhythms and cycles without needing a commentator to tell us what’s happening; we can see it, and understand it, for ourselves.

  23. This is a delightful poem and style. Some in a writing club I participated with a few years ago experimented with this type composition. Lovely bird I’ve not had the pleasure of ever seeing.

    1. It’s great to know that I’m not the only one having fun with this form! I’ve been creating etherees for some years now, and have improved in some ways. Syllable counting is only the beginning. As for the osprey, I hope you get to see one some day. They’re big, and handsome, and have a call and song that’s far more lovely than I’d ever have expected.

  24. Linda, ospreys have long been a favorite of mine after first being introduced to them on the southern US Atlantic coast. The first time I watched their fishing attempts, then failure, then vigorously shaking off water mid flight – I was hooked. And I’m fascinated by the ritual they perform when orienting their catch face forward for that “final flight.” Thanks for introducing me to an Etheree – beautifully written. ~Terri

    1. They’re clever, elegant birds. As pairs mate and begin fishing together, there’s nothing I love more than hearing them call to one another: one atop a mast, and the other circling and hovering above the fishing grounds. They don’t dive so deeply around here — as a matter of fact, they can’t, simply because our lake and bay are so shallow (just about ten feet, give or take). On the other hand, the fish are depth limited, too, so it works out.

      I’m quite fond of the Etheree form, and have written a good number of them. I tried to visit Etheree Taylor Armstrong’s grave in Magnet Cove, Arkansas, but I got run off by a couple of mean dogs before I found it. Never mind Paris or London — I want to go back to Magnet Cove!

  25. I always enjoy your etherees.

    Those talons are sharp as well. I am sure JJA painted that from a personal experience, similar to this. I am not the photographer. Just something that popped up on Facebook, and elsewhere on the web I am sure, and I have shared it a few times.

    1. Those are classic expressions on both faces. At first I couldn’t figure out the colors, and then I realized the red probably is blood — perhaps with a touch of saturation for drama. Live and let live’s a great motto — until it’s dinnertime!

    1. The ospreys are one of my favorites: beautiful flyers, sharp-eyed hunters, and just plain attractive even when they’re only perching. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem; this year, I just had to pay tribute to them with more than a photo.

    1. But don’t forget — I’ve never seen a reindeer! None of us can be everywhere and see everything. That’s part of the reason sharing our worlds can be so delightful. Thanks to you, I could describe a reindeer to someone now, and as more than “that thing that pulls Santa’s sleigh”!

  26. Seeing so many ospreys around the marina must have been an amazing (and noisy!) sight. And to think we almost lost them all to DDT. Phew!
    I’ve read that you get a lot of shorebirds in your area as well. Happy fall/winter!

    1. We do have birds galore. In fall, they gather for migration south, and in the spring the neotropical birds ‘fall out’ along our coast after their trip across the Gulf. Of course, we do have year-round birds, too — herons and egrets and mallards, Oh, My!

  27. I’ve occasionally seen osprey in their nest near my home all summer. This post makes me wonder if they’ve now left our area and gone south for the winter.

    1. I’d bet that they’re on their way to their destination, even if they aren’t there yet. I read a couple of interesting articles about how they nearly were extinct in southern Minnesota, and how have come back nicely, thanks to the elimination of DDT, the provision of nesting sites, and other more complicated efforts on their behalf. It would be fun to have them nesting here, but it’s nice to have them at all — and you get to see the nests!

  28. I enjoyed this poem with a special significance. I walk at a nearby nature park, and a mating pair of Osprey return each spring. I heard a loud (almost screeching sound) over by a pond hidden away in the grass away from my trail. I looked over and spied two large birds flying low. I am guessing they were Osprey.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised. They do have a loud, distinctive call. Now and then, I’m lucky enough to see one flying overhead with a fish in its talons. It was interesting to learn that they always turn the fish so that they fly with it facing forward rather than crossways — it reduces the wind resistance.

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