Feb 27

This osprey video is currently the most popular video on ARKive, but what is it about this bird of prey that is capturing the imagination, and how much do you know about this magnificent bird? To give you a bit more of an insight into the world of the osprey, here are our top ten osprey facts:

  1. Ospreys are almost entirely piscivorous, diving from the air to snatch fish directly from the water. The osprey’s legs (and talons) stretch forward and its wings tuck in moments before hitting the water, sometimes completely submerging itself to catch its prey.
  1. The osprey can prey on fish a third of its body weight. As its talons grip the fish, enormous wing power is needed to lift itself and its catch from the water. Once airborne again, a reversible outer toe enables the osprey to align the fish into a head-first, streamlined position underneath the body.
Osprey in flight carrying fish

Osprey in flight carrying fish

  1. Most ospreys are migratory, travelling distances of around 6,000 miles from perfect nesting sites in the north and the best fishing grounds in the south. Adults memorise landmarks from previous journeys, creating a mental map of the route. Exactly how juveniles navigate for the first time is still a bit of a mystery!
  1. The osprey is one of the most widespread birds of prey, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. Four subspecies cover this enormous range: P. haliaetus haliaetus, P. h. carolinensis, P. h. cristatus and P. h. ridgwayi.
Osprey swooping with talons ready while fishing

Osprey swooping with talons ready while fishing

  1. Extensive egg collecting and hunting meant that the osprey went extinct in the UK in 1916. The first breeding pair returned in 1954 to Scotland. Barbed wire around the nest tree trunk and 24 hour surveillance were used in an effort known as ‘Operation Osprey’ to protect the osprey pairs from poachers.
  1. Long-distance journeys are hazardous – only about half of young ospreys survive their first migration.
Osprey adult flying, about to land

Osprey adult flying, about to land

  1. The osprey has incredibly sharp eyesight. Hovering or circling over the water, the osprey is able to spot fish from heights of 30 metres, predicting size and speed of potential prey.
  1. Both the male and female osprey rear their young. The male hunts, providing food for the female and chicks in the nest, while the female usually takes charge of incubation and feeding the young.
Osprey feeding young at the nest

Osprey feeding young at the nest

  1. Although ospreys have been persecuted by fishermen, they can be used to a fisherman’s advantage – for example in Cuba, fishermen may observe where the osprey hunt to find shoals of fish.
  1. In medieval times, the osprey was believed to have the mystic ability to hypnotise fish, making the fish easy prey.

    Ospreys fighting over a nest site

    Ospreys fighting over a nest site

Let us know in the comments below if you have any other fascinating osprey facts.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

  • Desiree (greenmomster.org) (February 27th, 2012 at 3:10 pm):

    Thanks for all the fascinating facts! I always know my summer vacation is underway when I see the osprey nest (they reuse their nests each year — another fun fact) on my way to Edisto Island SC each year.

  • Dmitri (February 27th, 2012 at 3:23 pm):

    Fascinating! These facts are simply fascinating! ARKive really knows its ospreys!

  • Diane (February 27th, 2012 at 9:30 pm):

    We watched an osprey and a bald eagle fight over a fish while on a golf course in Sarasota, FL several years ago. Fun (more fun than my golf)and it was the osprey that won the prize.

  • Mona Nielsen (February 28th, 2012 at 1:14 am):

    In Grand Lake, Colorado, we know it’s springtime when we see the osprey back to their nests!

  • Sophie Smith (February 26th, 2013 at 1:54 pm):

    I saw “my” osprey on the nest the first time this year Feb 2. They returned for good on the 21st. and now I get to watch him hovering over the water and performing a perfect 10 diving after a fish. It is a joy everytime I see them here in Goose Creek, SC