The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) also called sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk is a bird of prey.
It is one of the most widespread raptors in the world.
Ospreys are found on all continents except Antarctica.
They have a wide distribution because they are able to live almost anywhere where there are safe nest sites and shallow water with abundant fish.
The typical lifespan is 7-10 years, though rarely individuals can grow to as old as 20-25 years.
Ospreys are large birds of prey, reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length, 180 cm (71 in) across the wings and up to 2.1 kg (4.6 lb) in weight.
On average, while not necessarily longer, female ospreys are 20% heavier than males and have a wingspan that is 5 to 10% greater.
The upperparts are a deep, glossy brown, while the breast is white and sometimes streaked with brown, and the underparts are pure white. The head is white with a dark mask across the eyes, reaching to the sides of the neck.
The bill is black, with a blue cere, and the feet are white with black talons.
A short tail and long, narrow wings with four long, finger-like feathers, and a shorter fifth, give it a very distinctive
The osprey flies with crooked or “M” –shaped wings. It is the only raptor that plunges or dives into the water, feet first to catch fish with its talons. An average of 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour, but up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour as it hits the water.
Fish make up 99% of the osprey’s diet. It typically takes fish weighing from 150 to 300 g (5.3 to 10.6 oz) and from 25 to 35 cm (10 to 14 in) in length, but the weight can range from 50 g (1.8 oz) to 2 kg (4.4 lb). Virtually any type of fish in that size range are taken.
An osprey flies over the water to hunt. It hovers above its prey and then plunges feet first to seize a fish in its long, curved talons. With a grip secured by sharp spicules on the underside of the toes, the bird carries its prey to a favourite perch to feed.
Sometimes after feeding the osprey flies low over the water, dragging its feet as if to wash them.
Ospreys are solitary birds for the most part, but have been known to congregate during the winter months when roosting. They are territorial, but not aggressively defensive of their territory.
Ospreys use several different vocalizations to communicate with one another. Up to five different calls have been recognized by researchers.
Some ospreys migrate seasonally, but not all.
Ospreys usually mate for life.
The osprey breeds near freshwater lakes and rivers, and sometimes on coastal brackish waters.
Single nests or colonies are built in tall trees, on the ground on small islands, or on ledges of cliffs.
The nest is a bulky structure, up to 2 meters (6.6 feet) across, composed of haphazardly arranged sticks. The same nests may be used by many generations of birds, becoming huge in the process.
Two to four white eggs marked boldly with dark brown blotches are laid. Downy young hatch in about five weeks and are fed by both parents. The young birds fledge in 6 to 8 weeks.
Ospreys are vulnerable to predation from aerial predators, such as owls and eagles. In North America, Bald eagles and great horned owls are known predators of osprey nestlings and (occasionally) adults.
Raccoons, snakes and other climbing animals are suspected predators of osprey eggs and nestlings.
The genus name Pandion derives from the mythical Greek king of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, Pandion II.
The species name haliaetus comes from Ancient Greek haliaietos ἁλιάετος from hali- ἁλι-, “sea-” and aetos άετος, “eagle.”
The origins of osprey are obscure; the word itself was first recorded around 1460, derived via the Anglo-French ospriet and the Medieval Latin avis prede “bird of prey,” from the Latin avis praedæ
Three subspecies are usually recognized; one of the former subspecies, cristatus, has recently been given full species status and is referred to as the eastern osprey.
The Roman writer Pliny the Elder reported that parent ospreys made their young fly up to the sun as a test, and dispatched any that failed.
In Buddhism, the osprey is sometimes represented as the “King of Birds”, especially in ‘The Jātaka: Or, Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births’ , no. 486.
There was a medieval belief that fish were so mesmerised by the osprey that they turned belly-up in surrender, and this is referenced by Shakespeare in Act 4 Scene 5 of Coriolanus:
I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.