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.
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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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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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