The osprey is a diurnal bird of prey (it is active during the daytime). It has dark brown upperparts (wings and back), a white head and white underparts (throat, belly and legs). A band of dark brown feathers form a stripe on either side of its head, that runs from the eye down the neck.
Ospreys nest in trees or sometimes build their nests on manmade structures such as atop poles or high platforms. Their nest is constructed out of sticks and bark and is lined with sod, grasses and other soft materials. Ospreys lay between 1 and 4 eggs per clutch. Young are born with a covering of down and with their eyes open.
From about 1950 to 1970, ospreys suffered drastic population declines due to pesticide poisoning. The pesticides (particularly DDT) caused eggshell thinning and as a result fewer eggs were strong enough to develop and hatch. After DDT was banned in the early 1970s, ospreys recovered rapidly. Despite this recoverly, some regions (especially inland areas) never fully recovered and populations are in some cases still considered endangered or threatened.
Most ospreys that inhabit the Northern Hemisphere migrate southwards during the winter—those that inhabit Europe make their way to Africa while the ospreys of North America migrate to Central and South America.
Size and Weight:
- Pandion haliaetus haliaetus - This subspecies occurs throughout Eurasia.
- Pandion haliaetus carolinensis - This subspecies is native to North America and is larger than Pandion haliaetus haliaetus with a darker upper body and lighter underparts.
- Pandion haliaetus ridgwayi - This subspecies occurs throughout the Caribbean Islands. It has a paler head and breast than Pandion haliaetus haliaetus and is non-migratory.
- Pandion haliaetus cristatus - This subspecies is native to Australia and Tasmania where it lives in coastal regions and along large rivers. It is the smallest of the four subspecies and like Pandion haliaetus ridgwayi is non-migratory.
To catch its prey, the osprey flies over the water and dives feet-first into the water to grasp hold of prey. Sometimes it submerges itself completely in the water to capture prey. Ospreys have powerful feet with long talons and spiny scales on the underside of their toes. The outer toe can be moved forwards or backwards to enable great dexterity when grasping and carrying fish prey. Whey flying back to the nest after capturing fish, osprey carry the fish by the head. This makes the load more aerodynamic and enables the osprey to fly more efficiently.