Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
Abundance Map

The Osprey is a large bird of prey found on all the world’s continents, except Antarctica. Worldwide, there are four recognised subspecies of this raptor:

  • P. h. carolinensis lives in North America.
  • P. h. ridgwayi lives in the Caribbean from the Bahamas and Cuba south to the coast of southeastern Mexico and Belize.
  • P. h. haliaetus lives in Britain and Scandinavia, east to Kamchatka and Japan, and south to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, in China and Taiwan, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde Islands. They overwinter in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • P. h. cristatus lives in Australia and the Southwest Pacific.

These birds weigh about the same as a Red-Tailed Hawk, but rather than the 48 inch wingspan of the hawk, theirs is almost 60 inches. Their wings seem almost double-jointed as they lift themselves from the water after a plunging dive after their prey.

Its diet is almost entirely composed of fish. While most raptors snag fish from the water’s surface, this bird plunges feet first into the water to secure its meal from as much as two feet below the surface. They are one of the most successful creatures at catching fish. They make successful catches on 25% to 70% of their attempts. Their feet have adapted to pivot one of their front toes to the rear, and have raspy pads to help with gripping its slippery prey.

I find Ospreys compelling subjects to photograph, especially when caught in flight with prey. While I visited the Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville (Texas), I got treated to an Osprey catching a freshwater fish only a few dozen yards in front of me. That is a memory that will remain with me for a long time. Another memory I’ll treasure came from a conflict between an Osprey and a quartet of Common Ravens intent on pirating a meal the larger bird was consuming on a power pole outside my dining-room window. Stubborn to the end, the osprey carried away the last scraps of its breakfast as it exited the theater, stage left!

Click map markers to reveal further information