Nine young ospreys are being released in two counties this week as part of the ongoing program to reestablish the birds in the state. Pat Schlarbaum with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Diversity program says the osprey project started nearly three decades ago.

“Macbride Raptor Project initiated some releases back in 1997 and currently we are enjoying 18 wild nesting pairs around Iowa. And its affected I guess 12 separate release sites — 12 separate counties have released ospreys over the years,” Schlarbaum says. Officials in Carroll and Dubuque counties are the latest to release the birds that he says are a good environmental indicator.

“As ambassadors for clean water, these birds require fish. And of course everybody realizes, that the better the water the more the fish. And we all need clean water,”according to Schlarbaum. The young birds are release at 42-days old and can tear apart fish but not yet fly.

Officials in each county provide fish for the birds for about two weeks when they start to fly on their own. Schlarbaum says the birds then provide quite a diving show as they ply the water for food. “Sometimes going clear underneath the water with a fish only to wiggle to the surface — and then with a few strokes they break through the cohesion of the water and take off in flight and wiggle the water off of them,” Schlarbaum explains.

He says they provide a “fascinating illustration of fishing perfection in Iowa.” You may’ve seen eagles diving for fish in waterways, and that’s led to their nickname. “People call them a fish eagle. They have about a six foot wingspan, a large black and white bird,”Schlarbaum says of the birds.

But he says they are much smaller than the eagles, weighing only four pounds, or about one-third of what an eagle would weigh. Schlarbaum says you can contact the Carroll or Dubuque County conservation boards to find out the release times. He says there are also sites you can find on-line that feature the osprey on webcams.