Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

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Eagle-like in appearance the osprey is never far from water. It is perfectly adapted for diving and expertly catches fish with its large sharp claws.

Common name: osprey, bald buzzard

Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus

Family: Pandionidae

Appearance

Head: with its bright white head and black band across its eye, the osprey is an easy one to identify.

Wings: the topside of the wings is a very dark brown and underneath they are mottled with a black patch on the 'wrist' where they bend. The wings are angled and very long, spanning 158cm.

Body: the chest is mainly white, like the head, but sometimes features a mottled patch. It has long, curved talons and short spines covering the underside of its toes to help grip its wet prey. From a distance it could be mistaken for a large gull.

Where to spot

Almost always found near water, ospreys hunt in freshwater lakes, large rivers, reservoirs and  by the coast. It is easiest to spot an osprey in Scotland and north east England, however in 2001 ospreys began breeding at Bassenthwaite in Cumbria and were also introduced to Rutland Water. Look for the osprey between April and September.

Feeding

The osprey eats medium sized fish from unpolluted water and will fly up to 70 metres above the surface to scout for its prey. Once it has spotted a fish, the osprey plunge dives towards the surface with half folded wings and as it reaches the water, throws its feet forward to catch the fish with its talons. Ospreys have been known to dive up to one metre below the surface of the water to catch prey.

Breeding

The monogamous osprey first breeds at three years of age and raises two to three chicks between April and July. Nests, known as eyries, are built high in tall trees or on cliffs, but usually next to water. The nest is reused year on year and added to each time, ultimately resulting in a large construction. It will also happily use man-made nesting platforms. If an osprey fails to breed, it will often start to build a new nest, or a 'frustration eyrie', which it will then use in following years.

Facts

  • In flight the long broad wings are held out from the body at a slightly bent angle forming a wide ‘M’ shape
  • It can fly up to 430km in one day when migrating. 
  • Typical lifespan 9 years.
  • Some ospreys in Scotland nest on electricity pylons.
  • It can close its nostrils to stop water getting up its nose.
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