Be Your Own Birder

Discover the Osprey

The osprey is one of the most widespread raptors in the world, and is familiar to many different types of birders in different countries and continents. But how much do you really know about the osprey?

Osprey With Fish - Photo by Russ
Osprey With Fish – Photo by Russ

Osprey Fun Facts

  • The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is also known as the fish hawk, fish eagle, sea hawk, or river hawk, with different common names depending on where the birds are seen.
  • Ospreys are primarily piscivorous and their diet is 99 percent fish, though if fish populations are low, these raptors have been recorded as preying on small mammals, snakes, frogs, and birds.
  • Because ospreys are so widespread, they eat more than 80 species of freshwater and saltwater fish, including catfish, herring, perch, salmon, sunfish, mullet, chub, flounder, suckers, and more.
  • An osprey’s feet are specially designed for fishing, with more strongly curved talons, sharp toe barbs to grip slippery scales, and a reversible toe to manipulate their catch.
  • Juvenile ospreys have buff edging to their feathers, but achieve their full adult coloration when they are 18-24 months old. As young ospreys mature, their eyes turn from brown-orange to bright yellow.
  • Ospreys have fantastic eyesight, even better than some eagles. They can see through glare on the water’s surface, and their nictitating membrane allows them to see some light and dark areas even underwater.
  • Ospreys plunge dive feet-first into the water as they hunt prey, often after hovering briefly 50-200 feet above the water, and their dives are so forceful that they can actually fully submerge in the water.
  • After an osprey catches its fish, it will manipulate its prey to orient the fish head-forward for a better grip and less wind resistance in flight. An osprey may hunt as far as 12 miles from its nest.
  • These birds have special valves in their bills that close off their nostrils when they go underwater. This helps protect sensitive membranes when these birds dive.
  • Ospreys are such amazing fishermen that approximately one in four of their dives results in a successful catch. For most raptors, only one in ten hunts is generally successful.
Perched Osprey - Photo by Teddy Llovet
Perched Osprey – Photo by Teddy Llovet

Add the Osprey to Your Life List

Because the osprey can be found on every continent except Antarctica, they are one of the easiest raptors to find. These feathered fishermen can be found near just about any healthy waterway with a plentiful fish population. Fish must be near the surface for successful hunting, however, so ospreys prefer shallower fishing areas or deep water regions with surface-schooling fish. Areas that have tall perches along the water’s edge, including trees, power poles, open docks, channel markers, and similar structures, will be especially favored. Because these are such large birds they’re easy to spot when perched, and young ospreys will be especially vocal at their nests, giving birders the opportunity to locate active osprey nests.

Learn More About the Osprey

There are many amazing resources to help you learn more osprey facts and trivia, including…

Hovering Osprey - Photo by Don Faulkner
Hovering Osprey – Photo by Don Faulkner

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