Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)


Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family:    Pandionidae
Size:    Length: 22 to 25 inches (56 to 64 cm)  Wingspan: 58 to 72 inches (147 to 183 m)
Weight: 2 to 4 pounds (1 to 2 kg)
Diet: Almost exclusively fish, as well as small birds and rodents
Distribution: Worldwide, with the exception of the Arctic and Antarctica
Young:  2 to 4 chicks, once a year
Animal Predators:  Owls
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Young: Chick
Lifespan: 15 to 20 years



      Other names for the osprey are fish eagle, fish hawk, American osprey and sea hawk.

      The species name Pandion haliaetus is Latin, meaning sea eagle.

      Migrating ospreys have been timed at speeds of up to 80 miles (129 km) per hour.

      Ospreys have one of the largest ranges of any bird.


Ospreys are large birds, with light undersides and brown wing feathers. Their eyes are yellow, their heads are white with dark speckles, and a dark stripe runs from each eye. Their wings have a distinctive bend at the wrists when flying. The soles of their feet are covered with rough scales to help them hold fish, and their talons are long and sharp.



Ospreys are usually found near water, such as most rivers, streams, ponds, sea coasts and other bodies of water throughout the world.  Breeding in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America, these birds migrate to southern regions in winter.


Feeding Habits

Ospreys need only one to three fish per day to survive. They hunt in early morning and late afternoon, soaring over the water and dropping down feet first to capture a fish. After eating, ospreys often flies back over the water, dragging their feet in the water to rinse them off. 



A male courts a female by enticing her with an aerial display, while holding a freshly-caught fish in his beak, which he then offers to her. The male chooses a nesting site, and both the male and female collect sticks, twigs and grass for their nest. Once ospreys have formed a pair bond, it is for life and they return to the same nest year after year, adding to it each successive season. The usual size of a clutch is three eggs. Cream or light pink in colour with dark blotches, they are the size of chicken eggs. The female usually sits on the eggs while the male brings food, but the male also takes a turn once in awhile. The male feeds his mate even before the eggs are laid, because females need more food than usual to produce healthy offspring. Anyone approaching the nest will be fiercely attacked. The male catches up to six fish per day to feed himself and his mate, and once the chicks hatch, the male has to catch up to eight fish per day for the entire family. The eggs are laid one or two days apart and hatch approximately four to six weeks later. Six to eight weeks after hatching, the chicks begin to fly. They jump up and down in the nest while flapping their wings and wait until a gust of wind carries them over the edge. The parents fly past them and drop a fish into the water so their young can learn to catch fish. Within two to three days, they can catch their own, but the parents help them out for a few more weeks. 



Ospreys build nests at the top of dead trees that have a flat top, where there are no leaves to interfere with their large wingspans. In many instances ospreys will make their homes on man-made structures. These structures include power poles, radio and light towers because they are easily accessible.



Ospreys were once nearly considered endangered in North America due to hunting and the pesticide DDT.  Their population began to replenish in the 1970s, after DDT was banned. However, DDT is still in use in South America, where some ospreys migrate for the winter. Ospreys have been affected by timber harvesting as it has made it more difficult for them to nest during breeding season, as well as locate a wintering area. In some places such as Great Britain, people have built nesting areas for ospreys, which have proven successful. 









Osprey Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

 National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Ed. (1999)