The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large bird of prey that can be found on every continent except Antarctica. It is one of the most wide-ranging species of bird in the world and is uniquely separate from sea eagles such as the bald eagle.
Ospreys are very large raptors with an average body length of over 2 feet and a wingspan of up to six feet. Females are slightly stouter in the body than males and have wider wings, but both weigh between 2-5lbs. Ospreys are dark brown to grey on the top of their bodies with a predominantly white underside. They have white feet with black talons and can be easily identified in flight by the four finger-like feathers on their wingtips.
As they feed exclusively on fish, ospreys almost always live near water. They are only permanent residents in the subtropical northern hemisphere, but can be found as far north as Alaska during the summer and as far south as Argentina during the northern winter.
The osprey has developed into a very specialized fish hunter and has incredible eyesight to spot underwater prey from high altitudes. Once a fish is spotted, the osprey will hover momentarily before making its dive, snatching the fish out of water with rough talons specifically designed to grasp slippery prey. The osprey will usually carry the fish back to its nest held head first to maximize aerodynamics. More rarely ospreys will hunt small mammals and reptiles if necessary. A fully-grown adult osprey is considered an apex predator in most habitats and does not face a threat from other birds. However, from time to time larger bald eagles have been known to steal the smaller osprey’s kills.
Breeding usually occurs near freshwater lakes; ospreys will first mate at 3-4 years of age and usually mate for life. The nest will be made of sticks and vines in an elevated area, with the female laying 2-4 eggs within a month of mating. The young begin to hatch after five weeks and are ready to fledge within a few months. Osprey chicks and young adults do face predation by bald eagles and some owls, but those who survive to adulthood usually live 8-10 years in the wild, with some living upwards of 20 years.
Osprey will readily nest on manmade structures. Special osprey nesting platforms have been constructed in many locations to help reestablish the species.
The oldest osprey on record lived to be over 30 years old.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology