Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Average life span in the wild:
Body, 21 to 23 in (54 to 58 cm); wingspan, 5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m)
3.1 to 4.4 lbs (1.4 to 2 kg)
Did you know?
The osprey is one of the most widespread birds of prey and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Ospreys are superb fishers and indeed eat little else—fish make up some 99 percent of their diet. Because of this appetite, these birds can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways around the world. Ospreys hunt by diving to the water's surface from some 30 to 100 feet (9 to 30 meters) up. They have gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water with their curved claws and carry them for great distances. In flight, ospreys will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance.
Ospreys are sometimes confused with bald eagles, but can be identified by their white underparts. Their white heads also have a distinctive black eyestripe that goes down the side of their faces. Eagles and ospreys frequent similar habitats and sometimes battle for food. Eagles often force osprey to drop fish that they have caught and steal them in midair.
Human habitat is sometimes an aid to the osprey. The birds happily build large stick-and-sod nests on telephone poles, channel markers, and other such locations. Artificial nesting platforms are common in areas where preservationists are working to reestablish the birds. North American osprey populations became endangered in the 1950s due to chemical pollutants such as DDT, which thinned their eggshells and hampered reproduction. Ospreys have rebounded significantly in recent decades, though they remain scarce in some locales.
Most ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the north and migrate south for the winter. They lay eggs (typically three), which both parents help to incubate. Osprey eggs don't hatch all at once, but are staggered in time so that some siblings are older and more dominant. When food is scarce these stronger birds may take it all and leave their siblings to starve.