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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Osprey Pandion haliaetus

This fish-eating hawk has one of the widest distributions of any bird of prey, breeding mainly in the Northern Hemisphere and migrating south for the winter. The Osprey is easy to distinguish from other birds of prey on coasts, thanks to its light build, its conspicuous, dark eye-stripe, and its narrow, slightly kinked wings. It feeds entirely on fish, plunging from heights of up to 165 ft (50 m) and entering the water feet-first. Its wings are strong, its legs are heavily muscled, and its toes have long, hooked talons and spiny soles—an adaptation that gives it a firm grip on its slippery prey. These birds have been known to take prey that approaches their own weight. They nest in the tops of high trees and hatch a single brood of two to three chicks each year. During the 20th century, ospreys suffered severely as a result of pesticide pollution, particularly from DDT. Their population has now recovered, and in some regions—for example, northern Britain—they have resumed breeding after a gap of many years.

Airborne attack

The Osprey cruises high above water looking for food. Once it spots a fish, it hovers for a few seconds before half-folding its wings and going into a steep dive. It hits the water at high speed, sometimes partly sub-merging, before gripping its prey with one foot and climbing laboriously back into the air. Once airborne, it shakes the water off its plumage, before heading to a perching post or to its nest.

Ospreyzoom image
  • Order Falconiformes
  • Length 20–26 in (50–65 cm)
  • Weight 2–4 lb (1.2–2 kg)
  • Habitat Coasts, reefs, lagoons, rivers, lakes
  • Distribution Worldwide except polar regions, southern South America and New Zealand
Osprey habitat mapzoom image