The osprey is a fairly common bird of prey that lives along coastlines, throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world. Though they typically live associated with the marine environment, they also live near and hunt in large freshwater waterways in many areas. The tops of the wings and part of the head are brown, while the remainder of the body (particularly the underside that is visible when they fly) is white or grey.
Ospreys are predatory and almost exclusively eat fish. They will nest next to any body of water that is large enough in which to hunt. They hunt from above, and snatch surface fishes directly out of the water, without getting their plumage wet. In order to blend in with sky and camouflage themselves from potential prey, ospreys are white or grey from below. In the tropics, individuals stay near their nests throughout the year. In cooler latitudes, ospreys migrate, like songbirds and waterfowl, to the tropics in the colder months (when they do not nest) and back to higher latitudes to nest in the spring.
Like all birds that hunt or forage in the ocean, the osprey nests on land. Pairs build large nests, high in treetops or on artificial structures, such as telephone poles. They reproduce via internal fertilization, and females lay two to four fertilized eggs, which both parents guard carefully. After the eggs hatch, the parents take turns hunting and caring for the chicks for between two and three months. Osprey pairs often mate for life.
The osprey is a naturally rare bird (as are all birds of prey), but populations are steadily increasing from historic lows, and scientists consider this species to be one of least concern. This species has not always been in such good shape, however. In the past, directed hunting and egg collecting drove total numbers to very low levels, and accidental poisoning by manmade pesticides weakened eggs, reducing hatching rates significantly. Fortunately, conservation and management measures have been successful, and the osprey is no longer at risk of endangerment or extinction. This species has some or complete legal protection throughout much of its range.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.