Every year, hope springs eternal that Seattle’s NFL football team might finally make it deep into the playoffs, perchance even win a Super Bowl. I’ll share my incredibly accurate prediction regarding the team’s likelihood of clinching the championship below, but first let’s get down to the question that probably brought you here: “What kind of bird is a seahawk?”
Seahawk is but one of many nicknames for the awesome Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). This large, long-winged bird of prey cuts a striking figure, dark chocolate brown above and white below with a strong black line through its eye. This color scheme is obviously a bit more understated than the blue, teal, and chartreuse palette favored by the football Seahawks, but seems to work well for the raptor.
Soaring Seahawk by Corey Finger
Osprey attack by Walter Kitundu
Most nature lovers enjoy the good fortune of spotting ospreys with ever-increasing frequency as they progress in understanding and awareness of the natural world. What makes such a common bird so special? Their size, sleekness, and sheer presence have a lot to do with it. But it is also human nature to fixate on those animals fixed firmly atop their respective food chains. Humans are fascinated with raptors like hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and osprey because they are predators. On safari, you may be pleased to spot a zebra, but admit it…you’re there for the lions.
Besides seahawk, osprey may also be referred to as fish hawk or fish eagle. According to the Peregrine Fund, the bird’s common name is derived from the Latin word ossifragus, meaning “a bone breaker.” A fitting name for a football team indeed! Here are some more fun osprey facts:
- The osprey is the most widespread raptor in the world. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Like most raptors, osprey are migratory. They breed in temperate climates and winter in the tropics.
- Osprey are particularly suited to catch fish, their primary food source. They possess a reversible fourth toe which allows them to grasp fish more securely by positioning two toes forward and two toes back. Also, the undersides of an osprey’s feet are covered in spiny spicules which prevent fish from wriggling free. They plunge feet first into the water to seize prey and may even submerge completely. A little known adaptation that facilitates these dives is the bird’s ability to close its nostrils.
- Osprey are only slightly smaller than eagles. The female osprey is larger than the male and may be distinguished by her brown spotted necklace.
- Osprey are one of the most difficult raptors to maintain in captivity. Although osprey were on the endangered species lists in most states since the 1970′s, they have successfully increased numbers due to conservation efforts since then. They are, for the most part, still considered threatened. Osprey are vulnerable to loss of habitat and organochloride pesticides like DDT.
How are the Seahawks’ Odds This Year?
Even without checking their standings or depth chart, I can say with confidence that Seattle is not likely to win the Super Bowl.
For that matter, neither are Philadelphia, Baltimore, Arizona, or Atlanta. In fact, in 47 Super Bowl match-ups from 1967 to 2013, only twice has a football team named for a bird emerged victorious in the championship game. The Baltimore Ravens crushed my beloved New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV (2001) and also prevailed over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII (2013) to become football’s finest feathered franchise.
Teams named for Homo sapiens just do better in this game. In an astonishing 33 of 46 contests, an organization named for a meat (not cheese) packer, chieftain, cowpoke, steel worker, indigenous American, gold miner, U.S. nationalist, servant of a deity, oversized individual, or some species of pirate has won it all.
Is the bird that leads the Seahawks out of the tunnel on game day an Osprey?
Actually not. Taima the Hawk, the only true avian attraction on Seahawk Sundays, is not an Osprey. Taima is an Augur Hawk or Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur), a species quite common in Africa but unknown in North America outside of football stadiums and raptor rehab centers. And in case you were wondering, Augur Buzzards aren’t sea hawks either: they prefer mountains, savannahs, and grasslands.
Real Seattle Seahawks nesting by the Ballard Locks by Corey Finger