Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

Last updated: November 15, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock.com

They reuse nesting sites for 70 years!

Osprey Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Accipitriformes
Family
Pandionidae
Genus
Pandion
Scientific Name
Pandion haliaetus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.


Osprey Facts

Prey
Fish, rodents, rabbits, snakes, frogs, and birds
Main Prey
Fish
Name Of Young
Nestlings, fledglings
Group Behavior
  • Mainly solitary
Fun Fact
They reuse nesting sites for 70 years!
Estimated Population Size
100,000 to 1.2 million
Biggest Threat
overhunting, deforestation, egg collecting, pesticide use
Most Distinctive Feature
Long, narrow wings
Distinctive Feature
rounded talons
Wingspan
50 to 71 inches
Incubation Period
35 to 43 days
Age Of Fledgling
8 to 10 weeks
Habitat
Coastal estuaries, salt marshes, reservoirs
Predators
great horned owls, bald eagles, raccoons
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Type
Bird
Common Name
Osprey
Special Features
reversible outer toes
Number Of Species
4
Location
Every continent except Antarctica
Nesting Location
Tall trees near freshwater lakes and rivers
Migratory
1

Osprey Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • White
Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
50 mph
Lifespan
9 to 10 years
Weight
2 to 4 pounds
Length
19 to 26 inches
Age of Sexual Maturity
3 to 4 years

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View all of the Osprey images!



Their wings make an “M” shape when seen from below.

Summary

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large raptor inhabiting every continent except Antarctica. They live near bodies of water abundant with fish, such as coastal estuaries and salt marshes. Look for them soaring above the water and diving feet first to catch their prey of choice: fish. You will typically find them by themselves or with their lifelong mate. Find out everything there is to know about this fascinating species, including where it lives, what it eats, and how it behaves.

5 Amazing Osprey Facts

  • They reuse nesting sites for 70 years!
  • Ospreys have reversible outer toes, allowing them to grip slippery fish effortlessly.
  • They can reach a max speed of 50 Mph before diving into the water.
  • Fish make up 99% of their diet.
  • Raccoons are notorious for stealing osprey eggs from the nest.

Where to Find Osprey

Ospreys have a cosmopolitan range, living across most of the world. It inhabits temperate and tropical regions on all continents except Antarctica. This migratory species breeds in Canada, Alaska, and the Northern United States before migrating to the southern states and as far south as Argentina. It also breeds in Europe before moving to Africa and stays sedentary in its Asian and Australian environments. You will find this bird near fresh or salt water, anywhere fish are present. They inhabit coastal estuaries, salt marshes, large lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. They will also nest in any location with a body of water and prefer shallow water. 

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Osprey Nest

They breed near freshwater lakes and rivers, constructing large platforms in the forks of tall trees, rocky outcrops, utility poles, and artificial platforms. They make the platform using heaps of sticks, driftwood, or seaweed and continue adding to it each year. Some nesting sites have been used for 70 years.

Scientific Name

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) belongs to the Accipitriformes order in the Pandionidae family, which encompasses the ospreys. The Pandion genus is the sole member of the Pandionidae family, and the ospreys are the only extant species in the genus. There are four recognized subspecies of ospreys, but the differences are minute.

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

Birds that eat fish: Osprey
Ospreys are skilled at soaring and diving but are not as acrobatic as other hawks.

iStock.com/Harry Collins


Articles Mentioning Osprey

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The osprey is a large diurnal raptor, measuring 19 to 26 inches long and weighing two to four pounds, with a 50 to 71-inch wingspan. It has rounded talons and reversible outer toes, which allow them to grab slippery fish. They have slender bodies, long, narrow wings, and long legs. Their wings make an “M” shape when seen from below. Ospreys are a deep brown above and white below and have white heads with brown stripes running through their eyes. Males and females look similar, except males are slimmer and have narrower wings.

Ospreys are mainly solitary but form lifelong pair bonds with their mates and occasionally roost in small winter flocks. They are skilled at soaring and diving but are not as acrobatic as other hawks. They produce stiff, steady wingbeats and reach an average of 30 Mph. However, they can get a max speed of 50 Mph before diving into the water. Their calls are high-pitched whistles and chirps. They mainly use these sounds to communicate with their mates and rival birds or to warn others of intruders.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Ospreys are residents to long-distance migrants. In North America, they breed in Canada and along the northern coasts of the United States. They migrate south to winter from the Gulf of Mexico through Central America. Some populations in Florida and California live in their environments year-round. European breeders winter in Africa, and Australasian ospreys are typically nonmigratory.

Diet

The osprey is piscivorous, a carnivore who primarily eats fish.

What Does Osprey Eat?

Fish make up 99% of their diet, but they may also eat rodents, rabbits, snakes, frogs, birds, salamanders, crustaceans, and carrion. They have excellent vision that can detect underwater objects from the air, and they catch fish by diving underwater, either foot first or by submerging their whole bodies. They typically bring their prey to a nearby preach to consume.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists the osprey as LC or “least concern.” Due to its extensive range and extremely large, increasing population, this species does not meet the “threatened” status thresholds. While these birds do not face any imminent threats to their global population, they are still vulnerable to overhunting, deforestation, egg collecting, pesticide use, and wind energy development.

What Eats Osprey?

Adult osprey has no known predators. However, great-horned owls and bald eagles occasionally steal their eggs and young from the nest. Raccoons are also notorious for stealing osprey eggs. To keep nest predation down, osprey build their nests on high platforms that give them a full view of potential intruders. To keep predators away, they sit alert, shake their wings, give warning vocalizations, and chase intruders.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Ospreys are largely monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds and often mating for life. This species reaches sexual maturity around three and four years, although some may not reproduce until the age of seven. Females lay two to four whitish eggs with reddish-brown splotches and incubate them for 35 to 43 days. Their young fledge the nest around eight to ten weeks after hatching. The osprey’s average lifespan is nine to ten years, but they can live as long as 25.

Population

The global osprey population is estimated to number 100,000 to 1.2 million mature individuals. Their population has increased by 108% in North America in the last 30 years and is also suspected of increasing in Europe. However, their North African population has sharply decreased and is locally endangered. 

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Osprey FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How big are ospreys?

The osprey is a large diurnal raptor, measuring 19 to 26 inches long and weighing two to four pounds, with a 50 to 71-inch wingspan.

Where are ospreys found?

Ospreys have a cosmopolitan range, living across most of the world. It inhabits temperate and tropical regions on all continents except Antarctica.

How fast are ospreys?

They produce stiff, steady wingbeats and reach an average of 30 Mph. However, they can get a max speed of 50 Mph before diving into the water.

Do ospreys migrate?

Ospreys are residents to long-distance migrants. In North America, they breed in Canada and along the northern coasts of the United States. They migrate south to winter from the Gulf of Mexico through Central America.

What do ospreys eat?

Fish make up 99% of their diet, but they may also eat rodents, rabbits, snakes, frogs, birds, salamanders, crustaceans, and carrion.

What threatens ospreys?

While these birds do not face any imminent threats to their global population, they are still vulnerable to overhunting, deforestation, egg collecting, pesticide use, and wind energy development.

Do ospreys have any predators?

Adult osprey has no known predators. However, great-horned owls and bald eagles occasionally steal their eggs and young from the nest. Raccoons are also notorious for stealing osprey eggs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Florida Field Naturalist / Cierra Bragga, Available here: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/3.%20BRAGA,%20OSPREYS,%20FFN%2045(1).pdf
  2. EMU, Australia Ornithology / Greg P. Clancy , Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1071/MU04056
  3. Bird Life International , Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22694938/206628879

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