Fishy Friday: 10 things about the Osprey

Day 18 of 100 Days of Blogging

This week’s fish eating bird profile highlights the Osprey. This powerful raptor is a common sight in many areas and has a unique way of catching its prey. 

Early Birder’s Fishy Friday Profile #2

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Family: Accipitridae    French: Balbuzard pecheur

#1. The Osprey is the only raptor in North America that dives for fish as its main food source.

#2. Ospreys hunt for surface schooling and shallow-water fish, which they capture by diving at the water feet first.

#3. Ospreys have a reversible outer toe and tiny spike like growths on the pads of their feet (spicules) that let them lock on to their slippery cargo with a tight grip.

#4. In order to reduce drag as it flies with a fish, the fish is carried with its head facing forward.

#5. Ospreys occupy a broad range of habitats including northern forests, fresh water lakes and rivers, estuaries, salt marshes and coastal areas.


Osprey eating fish head before returning to nest.(Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#6. Northern populations migrate south to spend the winter in similar fish rich habitats.

During the nesting season, males hunt and bring fish to the nest. However, he will usually feed first using his powerful hooked bill to rip the head off his prey. When returning to the nest, he presents his headless catch to the female, who then proceeds to feed their young.

#8. The osprey has a fairly long lifespan and can live up to 25 years.

#9. Though the effects are now reversed, this species suffered large declines from the 1950s to 1980s caused by pesticide contamination. Studies determined that poor reproductive outcomes stemmed from exposure to chemicals such as DDT. Environmental legislation banning the use of DDT and similar substances, combined with the availability of artificial nest sites and the bird’s tolerance of close human activity, has reversed the declines of previous decades. Currently the osprey’s range has expanded beyond its former distribution and populations in many locations exceed historical levels.


Osprey on nesting platform. Nest interwoven with ropes and fishing nets. (Photo:Connie Morgenstern)

#10. The Osprey will build its nest using twigs. A breeding pair will be happy with a variety of locations to build their nest; trees, cliffs, boulders, the ground or artificial platforms can all be deemed suitable. Later in the nesting season, the parents will bring all sorts of objects to “decorate” their nests. A variety of materials such as rope, strips of plastic, fishing nets, even cow manure and beach toys, can wind up interwoven with the sticks that form the nest’s base.