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Yesterday NASA launched Space Shuttle Atlantis for its final mission. And while I sadly do not have any extra-terrestrial lifeforms to report about, I can talk about one of the creatures that inhabits the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a nature preserve that overlaps the Kennedy Space Center: The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). NASA's image of the day yesterday was of a family of these fellows who nest just outside of the vehicle assemblage building.

Image from the US Forest Service
Ospreys are large raptors that can be found in either migratory or permanent residences on every continent save Antarctica. 99% of their diet consists of fish, and their have special pads on their feet to help them hold on to their prey over large distances. In order to catch their meals in the first place they will slowly fly over bodies of water, and then dive in feet first from heights of up to 120 feet. Once a fish is caught, they readjust it in their claws so that it is moving head first, making it more aerodynamic. They are also capable of lifting off after landing in the water, something that Bald Eagles cannot do. Unfortunately, Bald Eagles can be major jerks and not only prey on young osprey, but steal the adults' food right out of their claws.

Their genus name comes (like that of many others) from Greek mythology. Pandion was an Athenian king whose daughters were turned into birds while they were being pursued by an evil husband with an axe. They are also the namesake of the Boeing V-22 Osprey, a United States military aircraft that is able to take off and land like a helicopter.

Edit: Osprey Cam!


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