Photo: An osprey preparing to dive

An osprey preparing to dive

Photograph courtesy NASA

Map

Map: Osprey range

Osprey Range

Audio

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
30 years
Size:
Body, 21 to 23 in (54 to 58 cm); wingspan, 5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m)
Weight:
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.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Osprey compared with adult man

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.

Bird Features

  • Photo: Atlantic puffin

    Atlantic Puffin

    Get to know this coastal bird with the colorful beak. Learn more about the amazing “sea parrot.”

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Photo: A brown pelican

    Pelican

    Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.

  • Photo: Close-up of a duck

    Bird Pictures

    Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.

Animals

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

From the Magazine

  • Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  • Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.