Perched Osprey. Photo: David Bowers

Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus)

Fun Fact

Ospreys are the only member of their taxonomic family and genus. There are four subspecies found throughout the world.


Osprey comes from the Latin word ossifragus or "bone breaker." Pandion was the name of two mythical kings of Athens. Haliaeetus is from the Greek hals and aetos, meaning "sea" and "eagle."

Conservation Status

IUCN Least Concern. Osprey numbers dropped in the 1950-1970's due to agricultural chemicals such as DDT. Ospreys were exposed to these chemicals through their primary food source, fish. Since the ban of DDT in 1972, Osprey numbers have recovered over much of their historic range in the United States. Four subspecies of Ospreys are found throughout the world.


Ospreys, sometimes referred to as "fish hawks" or "fish eagles," are one of the largest birds of prey in North America and are often mistaken for Bald Eagles. Like Bald Eagles, Ospreys are dark brown and white. Their backs and wings are dark brown while their bellies and chests are white. They have a white head and crown with a dark horizontal eye patch. Immature Ospreys look very similar to adults but most notably have bright orange eyes. Females are about 1/3 larger than males and have darker marks across their chests.


54–58 cm (21.3–22.8 in)


1400–2000 g (49.4–70.5 oz )

Wing Span

150-180cm (59.1-70.9 in)


Four subspecies of Ospreys are found on every continent except Antarctica. There are two migrant and two non-migrant subspecies. P.h. haliaetus, the nominate species, breeds throughout Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia and winters in southern Africa, India, and the West Indies. P. h. carolinensis, the subspecies found here in Jacskon Hole, breeds in North America and winters in Florida, the Gulf Coast, northern South America and the Caribbean. P. h. ridgwayi is a non-migratory residential population also found throughout the Caribbean. A second non-migratory residential subspecies, P. h. cristatus , exists in Australia and some South Pacific islands. (Range map below)


Ospreys live and nest near bodies of water that support fish. Two of the four subspecies are migratory and migrate to warmer climates during the winter.


Ospreys feed almost exclusively on fish.


Ospreys soar above water and dive feet first after fish. They can become completely submerged, but their extra oily feathers and light wingloading allow them to take off from the surface, even with a fish. When flying with a fish, Ospreys hold it face forward with one foot in front of the other. They also move one reversible toe backward so that they have two toes on each side of the fish.


Ospreys, usually monogamous, often return to the same nest or the same nesting area year after year. Typically, the male builds a large stick nest lined with moss, leaves, and sometimes man-made materials such as plastic. The nest is built on top of a large dead tree or a man-made structure such as a telephone pole or nesting platform. Ospreys reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years old.

Read more about the nest contents of an Osprey nest near TRC that we dissected.

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This video shows how truly amazing these raptors are at catching fish.

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