Sunday, February 1, 2015

What is a Seahawk Anyway?

You may or may not have seen that Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Pratt (Star Lord) got into a discussion on twitter over who would win the NFL championship today (I can't legally say the name of the event due to copyrights, yay!). Depending on which team wins the big game; one of their superhero personas will show up at non-profit for children with cancer in the other's hometown. Chris Pratt is from North of Seattle, and Chris Evans is from Boston. During the exchange Chris Evans asked a question that's actually pretty common even here in the land of the 12th Man. #whatisaseahawkanyway? Good question Chris, I think this week we'll answer that.

Seahawk (Superbowli repetensis)

It's not always the case with sports emblems, but the seahawk is actually surprisingly accurate to it's namesake.

 You were expecting it to be blue weren't you?
Courtesy: vladeb via Flickr

That bird is an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and some of its alternative common names are: fish hawk, fishing eagle, and sea hawk. Now don't me started on the hilarious missed opportunity when we didn't call the team the fishawks, but otherwise this bird of prey is a powerful emblem for my home team.

If you feel like you've seen this bird before you probably have. Osprey are distributed world wide, from North to South America, and from Europe across Asia to Australia. The only place where these birds don't winter or breed is in Antarctica. There's only one requirement for these raptors to survive somewhere; fish. 

Osprey are almost exclusively piscivorous (piss-i-vore-us), not unlike that guy everyone knows who claims to be vegetarian, but doesn't count fish for some reason. Fish approaches 100% of their diet with occasional hors d'oeuvres of reptiles, rodents, and small mammals. The grace and power with which osprey catch their prey is astonishing. Their adaptations for hunting would make them pretty great football players as well.

Ugh this guy's Endzone celebration is really weird...
Courtesy: David Mills via Flickr

Osprey begin their hunts by circling above the water searching for the right place to strike. Not unlike Russell Wilson in the pocket, an osprey's eyes are perfectly adapted to find their target in all sorts of weather. The dark bars around their eyes help reduce glare (the charcoal football players use does the same thing) so they can see into the water. Once they've spotted a fish they have a couple ways they can catch it. There's the Richard Sherman style snag where they swoop down and snatch up their prey without getting touched by the water. You may have seen bald eagles do the same type of catch. Or they can go Beast Mode and crash directly into the water, talons outstretched in front of them, penetrating the surface to about 3 feet. This type of hunting is unique to osprey because most birds of prey can't scramble back to flight after getting wet. You can see both styles of hunting in this great video from Wildscreen.

They are so good at holding on to struggling fish because their talons are covered in minute hooks. These dig into the fish and make sure the osprey never fumbles. They also have another unique adaptation that allows them to get back to the air; wrists. They can bend their wings at a joint most other birds can't and that allows them to get lift straight out of the water from a dead stop.

Oh, Wilson's lost in the scrum at the line of scrimmage.
Courtesy: Jeff Bosco via Flickr

But wait he's managed to scramble out for a five yard gain!
Courtesy: Michael Utin via Flickr

So what are seahawks anyway? They're a unique and well adapted predator with all the skills necessary to dominate in almost any environment. Also they're a bird.


Flemming, Stephen, & Smith, Peter, "Environmental Influences on Osprey Foraging in Northeastern Nova Scotia", Journal of Raptor Research, 24(3):64-67, 1990

"Pandion haliaetus, Osprey"
The Encyclopedia of Life

"Pandion haliaetus"
US Forest Service

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