Osprey Dives Entirely Underwater Before Taking Off With Huge Fish in Its Talons

© BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock.com

Written by Rachael Monson

Updated: October 21, 2023

Share on:


Have you ever seen a bird plunge from the sky into the water to catch a fish? If not, you don’t want to miss the incredible video below! An osprey dives into the water straight down to catch a huge fish for its dinner. This amazing fishing technique makes ospreys very interesting.

Let’s take a closer look at these and other fishing birds!

Watch the Amazing Osprey in Action Below!

What is an Osprey?

An osprey, or sea hawk, is a large bird that primarily eats fish. They live all over the world, usually in coastal regions or near large bodies of water. They are one of the most widespread species of raptors, next to the peregrine falcon. Raptor is another word for a bird of prey. More specifically, a bird that hunts and eats meat as its main source of food.

Ospreys are primarily piscivores, meaning 99% of their diet is fish. Some reports found them feeding on dead animals on rare occasions. They also catch and eat small mammals, frogs, snakes, and the like once in a while. These birds hunt by flying high over the water and watching the fish. They find the perfect target; then the osprey dives straight down. They snatch the fish out of the water with their sharp, strong talons. Once they have a good grip, the bird will fly to a tree to devour their meal.

Animals That Live in Coral Reefs: Ospreys

Ospreys are piscivores which means they mainly eat fish.


Ospreys have great vision and can spot prey from 130 feet in the air! When they dive, they can close their nostrils to avoid breathing in water. Some of these birds even submerge their entire bodies when catching a fish. Special adaptions of their talons help them catch and hold on to a fish, also. These include barb-like scales that rip into the fish’s flesh to grasp it firmly.

Are Ospreys an Endangered Species?

Ospreys are still on various endangered species lists across the world. You can still watch them dive for fish in many places, but be careful how close you get. Some rules are very strict regarding entering their nesting areas or otherwise disturbing the birds. Check local laws before venturing to see them!

What Caused the Osprey Population Decline?

DDT was discovered as a useful chemical to prevent insects from harming plants (a pesticide) in 1939. When widespread use of DDT began, osprey numbers crashed in the United States. This chemical washed into lakes and rivers where fish and other prey animals soaked it up. Ospreys who ate these fish also ate DDT at very high levels. This resulted in the females laying eggs that were so fragile they could not sit on them without them breaking open. Like other birds, ospreys must incubate the eggs by sitting on them and keeping them warm. In 1972, the United States banned the use of DDT.

Both osprey parents tend to the chicks.

Usually, both osprey parents tend to the chicks and protect the nest.

©Joel Blazewicz/iStock via Getty Images

How are Ospreys Doing Now?

According to a report by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2016, there were over 10,000 nesting pairs in Chesapeake Bay alone. This increase in population is directly related to the ban on DDT. Other places around the world made changes to ensure the species’ survival.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission states ospreys have regained their numbers in the state. The state removed them from their endangered species list in 2018. Florida still lists ospreys on a Species Management Plan, which provides them protection but is more lenient than before. It allows for empty nests to be removed but still restricts people from disturbing active nests. It also forbids taking any eggs or killing osprey in any manner.

As of 2023, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List places ospreys in the “least concern” category. This means that the worldwide population of mature adults (ones that can breed) has reached an acceptable level. They also state that numbers are continuing to increase overall. This is great news for the beautiful birds. Hopefully, they will be around for many years to come – diving to catch fish and inspiring awe around the world.

Ringed kingfisher with fish prey.

Other birds also dive to catch fish, like this ringed kingfisher.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Are There Any Other Birds That Dive to Hunt Fish?

Yes! Several other bird species hunt and eat fish, though not all of them dive.

Bald Eagles

Bald eagles eat fish, though they only make up about 50% of the diet. These birds have vision four to five times better than humans. This means they can spot prey the size of a rabbit as far as three miles away! These birds are only found in North America. Ospreys dive underwater to catch their prey. Bald eagles only dip their feet into the water to grab fish. They are much larger than the osprey and can attack very large fish, like salmon.

Bald eagle in flight with a sockeye salmon in his claws

Fish make up 50% of a bald eagle’s diet.



Another fish-eating species is the heron. Heron is a broad term that designates a group of about 72 different species. Fish make up between 80-90% of their diet. They will also eat frogs, salamanders, and crustaceans. These birds do not fly and dive to hunt, though. They have long legs that allow them to walk through the grasses of the marshlands where they live. Standing above the water, they see fish and other prey swimming around. They use this height advantage to quickly stab their bill into the water and spear their prey. They even use their feet to scare fish out of hiding.


Penguins may be the most interesting of all fish-eating birds. Though they cannot fly, they can dive into the water and swim up to 22 mph, depending on the species. Penguins chase the fish directly and catch them with their mouths. They even carry fish back to their young, who sometimes wait as long as five months without a meal!


Another group of birds that dive to catch fish are kingfishers. This general term refers to a group of more than 100 species of birds that specialize in catching fish! They come in many sizes and colors and live all over the world.

Share this post on:
About the Author

Rachael Monson is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her primary focus is cats, big and small. She also works as senior veterinary assistant and has been in that field since 2012. A resident of Mississippi, she enjoys spending her off time playing video games with her husband and hanging out with her pets (a Bengal cat named Citrine and Basset Hound/Pomeranian mix dog named Pepsi).

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