Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Accipitriformes
- FAMILY: Pandionidae
Unique among North American raptors for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them, Ospreys are common sights soaring over shorelines, patrolling waterways, and standing on their huge stick nests, white heads gleaming. These large, rangy hawks do well around humans and have rebounded in numbers following the ban on the pesticide DDT. Hunting Ospreys are a picture of concentration, diving with feet outstretched and yellow eyes sighting straight along their talons.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Near open water with an abundant supply of fish, listen for the Osprey’s whistling or chirping calls overhead, or look for this bird's distinctive flight profile and heavy wingbeats. From spring into fall, a boat or raft on a lake or river can provide an especially good vantage point. Scan treetops and other high spots along the shore for perched adults and untidy stick nests piled atop a platform, pole, or snag out in the open.
- Águila Pescadora (Spanish)
- Balbuzard pêcheur (French)
Consider putting up a nest platform to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. You'll find plans for building a nest structure of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.
- Cool Facts
- An Osprey may log more than 160,000 migration miles during its 15-to-20-year lifetime. Scientists track Ospreys by strapping lightweight satellite transmitters to the birds’ backs. The devices pinpoint an Osprey's location to within a few hundred yards and last for 2-3 years. During 13 days in 2008, one Osprey flew 2,700 miles—from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, to French Guiana, South America.
- Ospreys are unusual among hawks in possessing a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. Barbed pads on the soles of the birds' feet help them grip slippery fish. When flying with prey, an Osprey lines up its catch head first for less wind resistance.
- Ospreys are excellent anglers. Over several studies, Ospreys caught fish on at least 1 in every 4 dives, with success rates sometimes as high as 70 percent. The average time they spent hunting before making a catch was about 12 minutes—something to think about next time you throw your line in the water.
- The Osprey readily builds its nest on manmade structures, such as telephone poles, channel markers, duck blinds, and nest platforms designed especially for it. Such platforms have become an important tool in reestablishing Ospreys in areas where they had disappeared. In some areas nests are placed almost exclusively on artificial structures.
- Osprey eggs do not hatch all at once. Rather, the first chick emerges up to five days before the last one. The older hatchling dominates its younger siblings, and can monopolize the food brought by the parents. If food is abundant, chicks share meals in relative harmony; in times of scarcity, younger ones may starve to death.
- The name "Osprey" made its first appearance around 1460, via the Medieval Latin phrase for "bird of prey" (avis prede). Some wordsmiths trace the name even further back, to the Latin for "bone-breaker"—ossifragus.
- The oldest known Osprey was at least 25 years, 2 months old, and lived in Virginia. It was banded in 1973, and found in 1998.