Photo: Bob Howdeshell/Great Backyard Bird Count

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

A very distinctive fish-hawk, formerly classified with other hawks but now placed in a separate family of its own. Along coastlines, lakes, and rivers almost worldwide, the Osprey is often seen flying over the water, hovering, and then plunging feet-first to catch fish in its talons. After a successful strike, the bird rises heavily from the water and flies away, carrying the fish head-forward with its feet. Bald Eagles sometimes chase Ospreys and force them to drop their catch. In many regions, landowners put up poles near the water to attract nesting Ospreys.
Conservation status Was seriously endangered by effects of pesticides in mid-20th century; since DDT and related pesticides were banned in 1972, Ospreys have made a good comeback in many parts of North America.
Family Ospreys
Habitat Rivers, lakes, coast. Found near water, either fresh or salt, where large numbers of fish are present. May be most common around major coastal estuaries and salt marshes, but also regular around large lakes, reservoirs, rivers. Migrating Ospreys are sometimes seen far from water, even over the desert.
A very distinctive fish-hawk, formerly classified with other hawks but now placed in a separate family of its own. Along coastlines, lakes, and rivers almost worldwide, the Osprey is often seen flying over the water, hovering, and then plunging feet-first to catch fish in its talons. After a successful strike, the bird rises heavily from the water and flies away, carrying the fish head-forward with its feet. Bald Eagles sometimes chase Ospreys and force them to drop their catch. In many regions, landowners put up poles near the water to attract nesting Ospreys.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • nearly fledged young
  • adult
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Flies slowly over water, pausing to hover when fish spotted below; if fish is close enough to surface, the Osprey plunges feet-first, grasping prey in its talons.


Eggs

3, sometimes 2-4. Creamy white, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both parents but mostly by female, about 38 days. Young: Female remains with young most of time at first, sheltering them from sun and rain; male brings fish, female feeds them to young. Age of young at first flight averages about 51-54 days. 1 brood per year.


Young

Female remains with young most of time at first, sheltering them from sun and rain; male brings fish, female feeds them to young. Age of young at first flight averages about 51-54 days. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Almost entirely fish. Typically feeds on fish 4-12" long. Type of fish involved varies with region; concentrates on species common in each locale, such as flounder, smelt, mullet, bullhead, sucker, gizzard shad. Aside from fish, rarely eats small mammals, birds, or reptiles, perhaps mainly when fish are scarce.


Nesting

Courtship displays include pair circling high together; male may fly high and then dive repeatedly in vicinity of nest site, often carrying a fish or stick. Nest site is usually on top of large tree (often with dead or broken top) not far from water. Also nests on utility poles, duck blinds, other structures, including poles put up for them. May nest on ground on small islands, or on cliffs or giant cactus in western Mexico. Site typically very open to sky. Nest (built by both sexes) is bulky pile of sticks, lined with smaller materials. Birds may use same nest for years, adding material each year, so that nest becomes huge.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Some are permanent residents in southern Florida; migratory elsewhere. Migrants travel singly, not in flocks, often following coastlines, lake shores, rivers, or mountain ridges.

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Migration

Some are permanent residents in southern Florida; migratory elsewhere. Migrants travel singly, not in flocks, often following coastlines, lake shores, rivers, or mountain ridges.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Loud musical chirping.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Hawks and Eagles Hawk-like Birds

Osprey

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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Avian Architecture

Avian Architecture

Purpose-built structures such as nest boxes, burrows, platforms, or roosting towers can help bird populations rebound

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