THE OSPREY_Pandion haliaetus

Ospreys belong to the Pandionidae family of birds in the Order Falconiformes { although some still class them in the Order Accipitriformes, which includes the eagles and hawks, Indeed the Latin name Haliateus derives from the Greek and means sea eagle}. They are medium to large fish eating birds of prey and is often referred to as the sea eagle.

The osprey is really a land bird that has developed extraordinary hunting skills, plunging into the water to snatch fish. then the prey is carried,head pointing forward, to a suitable perch to eat.

Photograph courtesy of R. Burton

At the last minute the feet are thrown forward.

photograph courtesy of George Gentry

The osprey relies on medium sized fish either from the sea or freshwater.The bird will fly high above the water's surface which at times might be as high as 70 metres. The catching methods vary with the type of fish but they all involve a near vetical plunge, with wings half folded and feet thrown forward at the last minute. They can dive to a depth of one metre. The bird is capable of closing its nostrils to prevent water from entering its nose during the dive.

Prey are carried back to a perch-with the fish's head always pointing forward

Photograph courtesy of R. Burton

Description of the osprey

The osprey is a medium to large bird of prey which is always associated with water, and is often observed flying away from water bodies. they are larger than a buzzard, with longer wings and proportionally shorter tail. The underparts and inner wing are gleaming white with a darker patch, brown tail and wing coverts.

The head is white with a speckled crown and striking dark strip through the eye. The brown and white facial markings are bold and distinctive as is the conspicuously hooked bill and yellow colour of the eyes. The upper parts are uniformly dark brown.

The legs are relatively short with large feet and talons. The strong feet are armed with an intricate patterning of sharp spikes which provide a tight grip  enabling the bird to grasp even the most slippery of fish. The tail is barred from beneath, the terminal bar is the broadest. When flying the wings are M-shaped and arched when seen from head on. They have a habit of hovering over water then plunging feet first to catch a fish. On rising from the water the bird will pause to shake water from its feathers, then continue to fly as normal.

They are 56cm long with a wing span of 158cm and both sexes weigh about 1.5kg. 

Nest eggs and young of the osprey.

The male bird is responsible for the main bulk of the nest building, bringing back long twigs and completing most of the construction work. When this is completed the female will add the finishing touches. The nest is a substantial creation which will take experienced birds up to three weeks to make it. It is usually located high in a coniferous tree { although sometimes deciduous trees are chosen}. It is impenetrable to most predators with the exception of man.

The nest is called an eyree. It can  be 120-150cm across and 50-60cm deep, this may grow to a depth of 150-200cm as the nest is returned to over the years. There are records of nests being used for over 20 years. ospreys will also use specially constructed nesting platforms which they do regularly in Scotland and other localities.

The eggs number 2-3. The background colour is white with brown, reddish or lilac spotting/streaking. Incubation takes around 37 days and the female undertakes the majority of the incubating which commences when the first egg is laid. 

The young are well looked after , particularly for the first week of their lives. However, after three to four weeks the parents may be absent for long periods. The young leave the nest at about two months. They are looked after by the parents for a further two months. They sometimes migrate together. They winter in tropical Africa or some will be content to stay in the Mediterranean regions of Europe.

The typical life span of the osprey is around 9 years. The oldest known osprey lived for 20 years. 

Osprey chicks being fed.


Conservation and Protection

In the UK, ospreys are included on the Amber list of Conservation concern, primarily because they are a rare breeding bird in Britain. The osprey is distributed throughout Europe, however, here they were persecuted, mainly by Victorian egg collectors, during the 19th century, which brought about severe declines and local extinctions. The osprey became extinct as a breeding bird in England in 1840 and in Scotland in 1916, although it did still occur as a passage migrant.

Now thanks to conservation efforts birds are slowly making a come back in Britian. probably the best known observation point for ospreys in Britain is at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Loch Garten Reserve in Scotland were they have bred almost every year since 1959.

Latest figures available are from 2001 when 158 breeding pairs were located, the majority of these being in Scotland. In that yaer the first successful nesting ospreys occurred in England.These were naturally re-colonising birds in the Lake District {north west England} and re-introduced birds at Rutland Water in the Midlands.

Nesting platform, photograph courtesy of Chelsi Hornbaker.

Conservation updates

Second osprey pair breed in the Kielder water and forest park Northumberland {NE England}.

July 2011 A second pair of ospreys has produced at least one chick in the 62,000 hectare Kielder Water and Forest park and the news was hailed as a conservation break through. The Northumberland wilderness becomes the only location in England for over 170 years  where more than a single pair of naturally re-colonising ospreys have bred successfully at the same time. The new birds have  nested on an artificial platform  erected by the Forestry Commission on top of a tall spruce tree.

It has also emerged that  Kielder's original pair, which arrived in 2009 and became the first to breed in the north east for at least 200 years, have had a single chick {2011}-their seventh youngster in just three years.

More details may be found on WWW.WILDLIFE EXTRA.COM

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Conservation issues 2012.

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August 2017 update . 

A new relocation for the species is taking place at Poole harbour as a first step in introducing a breeding population on the south coast of England. The idea is to restore breeding populations to their former haunts in the south of England.

The birds will be taken from a sustainable , healthy population in Scotland to Poole Harbout where it is hoped they will become acclimatized to the region before undetaking their long migration.

It is planned that a total of sixty Ospreys will be translocated over a five year period. 

For more information visit. www.roydennis.org/2017/06/20/poole-harbour-osprey-project 

UK conservation status-2021.

UK- Amber listed due to declines of over 25% in population/distribution over the last firty years or so.

Europe. Species of least concern. 

The images on this page are courtesy of  the USFWS, and individuals in their employ.