Osprey vs Eagle: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: February 10, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Harry Collins
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Eagles are some of the most impressive birds in the entire world. They’re large, powerful, and exceptional hunters. Yet, they’re not the only raptor in the skies around the world. Among the most impressive birds that eagles must contend with is the osprey. This large bird is found on every continent like the various species of eagles. How can you tell the difference between an osprey vs eagle, though?

We’re going to show you the most important differences between these animals so you can figure out which bird you see circling the water next time you’re out camping!

Comparing an Osprey and an Eagle

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OspreyEagle
SizeWeight: 2lb–4lb 10oz
Height: 21in-33in
Weight: 1.1lbs-15.4lbs   
Height: 15.6in-39in
Wingspan59in-70in80in
Lifespan15-20 years15-35 years depending on the species
DietFeeds almost exclusively on fishEats fish, mammals, waterfowl, reptiles, ruminants, and many other types of foods
Feather Coloration-Has a white head, brown stripe that goes through its eye, and white chest feathers-Eagles come in many colors, but a bald eagle shares their range.
– A bald eagle has a pure white head, white tail feathers, and dark brown feathers on their bodies.
Number of SpeciesOne species with four subspecies          Over 60 species

The 6 Key Differences Between an Osprey vs Eagle

Battling White-Tailed Eagles
Many species of eagle exist, but they tend to be larger than ospreys.

Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.com

The most significant differences between an osprey and an eagle are size, wingspan, and feather coloration. For the most part, eagles are larger, have a bigger wingspan, and have unique feather colors compared to the osprey, making it easy to tell these two birds apart from one another.

Many eagles, including the bald eagle, are larger than ospreys. Eagles are taller, longer, and heavier than ospreys. Eagles’ wingspans are greater than ospreys’ wingspans, too. In fact, some eagles have wingspans that exceed an osprey by over a foot in length.

Ospreys are known for having a white head with a brown stripe going through the middle of their head and around their eyes. Also, they have white chest feathers. This coloration is not found in eagles, and that makes it easy to tell them apart.

These are the primary differences between an eagle and an osprey, and they’re all differences that you can tell just by looking at the birds.  

Osprey vs Eagle: Size

Eagles are larger than ospreys by a large amount. Ospreys only grow to be about 4.5lbs in weight and 33 inches tall. However, Eagles grow to be 15.4lbs at their largest, standing 39 inches tall. Eagles are very large and powerful birds, but that doesn’t mean ospreys are weak. They’re very capable at hunting for their meal of choice, fish.

Osprey vs Eagle: Wingspan

Fastest Birds in the World: Golden Eagle
The golden eagle’s wingspan can exceed 7 feet!

MehmetO/Shutterstock.com

The wingspan of an osprey is less than an eagle’s wingspan in many cases. The osprey’s wingspan is roughly 70 inches in length, but the eagle’s wingspan can measure up to 80 inches in a bald eagle. This measurement can be even longer in the biggest species of eagles. The golden eagle’s wingspan can measure over 86 inches.

Osprey vs Eagle: Lifespan

Eagles have a longer lifespan than an osprey, both in the wild and in captivity. The osprey’s average lifespan is roughly 15-20 years in the wild. Of course, this number can increase when the osprey is living in captivity and being cared for by humans.  

Depending on the species, eagles can live 15-35 years, but they can live far longer when they’re in captivity or if they’re just luckier than most. For example, one bald eagle that was being tracked was at least 38 years old when it was hit by a car while feasting on carrion.  

Osprey vs Eagle: Diet

Largest Eagles in the World: American Bald Eagle
Eagles eat fish like ospreys, but eagles also have a more diverse diet.

Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

The osprey is alternatively called the fish-hawk. and its name is believed to be based on its habit of eating fish. In fact, the vast majority of their meals are fish, but they also eat snakes, frogs, and birds sometimes. They hunt by locating a fish while flying, slowing down above them, and then diving into the water to get the fish. Many times, they’ll go completely into the water to get their prey.

Eagles also eat fish, diving to the water to pull them out with their strong legs and long, sharp talons, both of which they use to snatch prey out of the water and off the ground. Moreover, eagles also like to eat mammals, waterfowl, reptiles, and other foods. They can even scavenge for food when they need a quick meal, so it’s possible to see them eating carrion on the side of the road.  

Osprey vs Eagle: Colors

The osprey is known for its beautiful, unique plumage. Ospreys have a white head with a brown stripe running through it and around its eye. Ospreys also have white chest feathers and brown feathers everywhere else on their body.

Eagles come in many colors, but bald eagles share a range with them, so we’ll compare their colors. Bald eagles have a pure white head, white tail feathers, and dark brown feathers on their bodies. Thus, it’s easy to tell them apart from ospreys just by looking at their head and chest area, both of which can be spotted from far away and mid-flight.

Osprey vs Eagle: Number of Species

Animals That Live in Coral Reefs: Ospreys
Only one species and four subspecies of the osprey exist.

LMIMAGES/Shutterstock.com

Eagles have more species than ospreys. The osprey is a bird comprising a single species. The osprey has four recognized subspecies in the present day. Eagles have over 60 recognized species around the world, and at least one species lives everywhere but Antarctica. The eagle species can range in size from very large to a bit smaller than ospreys.

Eagles and ospreys have many similarities in terms of their diet, the colors on their bodies, and their long, hooked beaks. However, eagles are larger than ospreys and have a larger wingspan than ospreys. Eagles tend to live longer than ospreys, too.

With over 60 species, it’s possible that some of them can look similar to ospreys. The osprey’s unique feather coloring where it has a brown stripe running across its head and around its eye is rarely seen in any other birds. With all this in mind, if you see two birds flying in the sky, you can probably pick out which one is an osprey and which one is an eagle.

Birds that eat fish: Osprey
A number of birds have evolved specialized traits to help them hunt for fish.
iStock.com/Harry Collins
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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