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A snowbird is a person who travels south for the winter to enjoy warmer weather. In December, an osprey that had been tagged in Yellowstone National Park was found injured in Miami Beach. An osprey is a fish-eating hawk.

If you had to drive to Miami Beach from Yellowstone it would take more than a day and a half — 39 hours — to cover the more than 2,600 miles. That's a lot of wing flapping.

Just think, if that bird lives for 15 to 20 years — which is pretty common — and did the same migration back and forth each year, that would be somewhere around 78,000 to 104,000 miles of flying just for migration. That's some frequent flying miles. But some osprey fly even farther, more than 160,000 migration miles while traveling as far as South America for the winter.

Osprey are common to the rivers and lakes of Montana. They build large nests in trees and on power poles. To catch fish they will sometimes dive under the water. Their talons (claws) are built to hold on to slippery fish, with two talons in back and two in front and a rough pad on the bottom. They try to capture fish its head faces forward, because then it's easier for the osprey to fly.

Ospreys are very good at catching fish. According to one study they caught fish on at least one out of every four dives into the water, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which also said the average time ospreys spent hunting before catching a fish was only about 12 minutes. That's a lot faster than most human fishermen and women.

In Yellowstone, ospreys return to the park around April and leave in September. They like to nest along the park's river and Yellowstone Lake. When cutthroat trout numbers fell in the lake, osprey also declined since there was less to eat. As cutthroat trout numbers are increasing, scientists are watching to see if osprey populations will too.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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