What: The clockwork return of mated pairs of ospreys to the Pacific Northwest in early spring, to raise a family before returning south to California in the fall.
Why: Ospreys wake us up from our winter doldrums, returning every year as mated pairs to the same places they spent previous summers. As with our bald eagles, ospreys are raptors. But while an eagle will prey on rodents, the osprey is almost exclusively a pescetarian. It is living proof of the central tenet of evolution—that species will evolve merely as far as they must to survive—in that an osprey has reversible outer toes which lock with the front claws allow grasping slippery fish from the water. But if an osprey grasps something it cannot lift, it cannot let go. If that thing is in the water, the osprey may drown. That fact is well known in Seattle, making the osprey more sympathetic than the infallible bald eagle. (The fact that it might not be entirely true rarely disturbs us. What, you think we moved here for the science?)
Impact: The osprey is the Seattle area’s avian mascot of choice. We named an occasionally dodgy military aircraft after the osprey, for example. Since it is often known in these parts as the seahawk, we also named a football team after it, giving them a gorgeous nest that gives full view of the ospreys plunging into Puget Sound for meals. (During the Sounders games, of course. The ospreys fly to Cali for NFL season.) If you’d like to learn more true scientific facts about the seahawk, let the Presidents of the United States of America tell you about our most noteworthy one.
Personal Connection: The cell tower’s benefits are obvious. Certainly, it enables a world of communication never dreamt before. But the cell tower’s design—a rail-ringed flat base atop a mammoth pole—is also the perfect nesting ground for an osprey family. Many of our cell towers are now protected wildlife sanctuaries, and one of them is in the driveway leading up to our house. So every year about this time, when we see massive shapes wing across the sky, we rush out with our binoculars to see Hassel and Becky come home. We watch for newborns to emerge from the nest, and for their feathers to turn white. Then we watch them leave. You can keep your summer reruns; I’ve got the only channel I need.
Other Contenders: the long-awaited opening of tulips; the kites blotting out the sky over Gasworks Park in Seattle; the beautiful dynamic of the NHL playoffs; the pickling of asparagus; the arrival and demolition of Cadbury Mini-Eggs; the traditional Easter Monday bottle-kicking and hare pie scramble in Hallatan, England, far and away the dumbest and most violent “ball sport” in the world; WXRT-FM in Chicago plays its annual April Fool’s joke.