The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Created on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 11:52
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The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) also called the Fish Eagle, is a large migratory raptor that can be found in all the continents except Antarctica.


Ospreys are easy to identify and can only really confused with Bald Eagles. The Osprey is fifty to sixty six centimetres (20–26 inches) in length with a dark back. The underside is white with dark specs and the head is also white with a dark mask around the eyes. The eyes are golden, with both the beak and talons being black. The white breast and dark eye mask make it easy distinguishable from the bald eagle.

Flying Osprey
Photograph taken in the Kootenays, British Columbia Canada

Habitat and Behavior

In North America, the Osprey can be found throughout Canada, the North Western US and the Eastern Coast of the US during the spring to fall breeding season. During winter, almost all North American breeding Ospreys migrate to South America for winter.

Ospreys always build their nests near bodies of water that contain fish. They are very adaptable when it comes to objects to build their nest on. They are just as happy to build nests on man-made objects like telephone poles and specially erected nest platforms, as they are to build them on high barren trees. They are also flexible on the location of the nest, regularly building nests near urban areas, along highways and even in golf courses, as long as there is a productive body of water nearby.

Ospreys mate for life, with the female producing up to 4 eggs a year. Eggs hatch in about five weeks and spend the next eight to ten weeks in the nest.

Nesting Osprey


As you’ve probably guessed, the Osprey eats almost solely fish. It will also eat rodents and birds if an easy opportunity presents itself. They are very adapted to hunting fish, with feet that have long curved sharp talons and barbed pads on the underside of the feet to help grip the fish.

They hunt by flying 20 to 100 feet (8 to 30 meters) above bodies of water and diving feet first into the water to grab fish after they have located them. They are able to get air born again with fish heavy as 2 kg (4.24 lbs). They also orient the fish, head first when flying to cut down on air resistance.

Viewing and Photography

The Osprey is another easy bird for both viewing and photography, as most don’t seem to mind the presence of humans nearby. This especially true with Ospreys that nest near urban areas.

To find Ospreys, simply find what bodies of water in your area contain good populations of fish (ask a local fisherman). Once arriving in the area, look for their nests. They are usually easy to find as Ospreys will build them on the top of high, barren objects like old dead-standing trees.

After you’ve found the nest, it just becomes a waiting game. Use binoculars to see in there are any young in the nest and scan the skyline for any fishing adults. Should you see no activity within an hour or two, you’ve probably found a vacant nest and it time to move on.

Once you’ve located some Ospreys and their nest, you’ll need a telephoto lens of at least 200-300 mm to zoom in enough to get a decent photograph. Using a tripod or monopod is also a good idea to help prevent any blurry images. Getting a view inside the nest can be particularly difficult because Ospreys build their nests fairly high. Try using nearby hills as a vantage point to see and photograph any activity happening in the nest.

After you’ve observed the adults hunting for a while, you’ll get a sense of when they’re ready to dive for a fish. If you time it right, you may be rewarded with a photograph of an Osprey emerging from the water with a fish in its talons. Using the continuous shooting mode on your camera can greatly increase the chances of you capturing such a shot.

preching Osprey