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Release: Immediate

Macbride Raptor Project set to release four young osprey into the wild

IOWA CITY, Iowa ­ Four young osprey, which were brought to Iowa and placed in a "hack tower" at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area on July 17, will be released into free flight on Monday, August 10.

The birds have spent the last three weeks "strengthening their wings, practicing flight, eating, and growing," said Jodeane Cancilla, coordinator of the Macbride Raptor Project. She said the birds are now half again as big as they were when they entered the box. They have become stronger by practicing flying inside the box ­ flapping their wings until they rise to the top of the box. But after spending time in a confined space, the birds may initially face some difficulty navigating the wide world that awaits their release.

"In their first flight, they may have some trouble ­ like crashing into trees," Cancilla said. "It's sort of like a toddler learning to walk ­ bumping into things and falling down all the time." But they'll get the hang of it, Cancilla said, once they have a sense of space and distance and once they improve their "wing-eye" coordination.

The osprey will also begin hunting, which entails diving feet first underwater to catch fish. While they are learning, Cancilla said they may spend some time floating around in the water recovering from bad dives or learning to identify prey. "Boaters and jet skiers should be mindful of that and give them some extra room," she said.

The public will be able to identify the osprey by their distinctive white underside, dark back, and raccoon-like mask around yellow eyes. The osprey can weigh between 2.75-4.5 pounds with a wingspan of 5-6 feet, making it close in size to a small eagle. Although the osprey is sometimes called the fish-hawk or fish-eagle, it is neither a hawk nor an eagle, but a related species with its own classification. The four birds in the Raptor Project also have lavender bands around their right legs and blue or pink markings on their wings. This will enable the project staff to monitor the birds with binoculars and to identify them if they eventually return to nest at Macbride.

Raptor Project staff will monitor the birds until they leave the area in mid-September to begin migration to Central and South America. The osprey will live there for about 18 months before returning north to nest. The goal of the project is to have the birds return to the Macbride Nature Recreation Area to build their nests. The first osprey released through the project in July 1997 could return to nest in the spring of 2000.

The Raptor Project is co-sponsored by the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also participates in this project and has established five nesting platforms along the Coralville Reservoir and Lake Macbride shorelines.

If you have questions about the osprey or the Raptor Project, or if you see one of the newly released osprey struggling or experiencing difficulty, call Cancilla at (319) 398-5495.