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 Osprey - Fact File
Pandion haliaetus
Rare but increasing summer visitor to Scotland (around 100 pairs). A reintroduction scheme is taking place at Rutland Water in England.
Wooded islands and lakesides. Feeds on fish in lakes etc and also visits coast.

Large raptor, stickingly pale on underparts and dark brown upperparts. Dives for fish, sometimes briefly submerging.

55 - 69 cm (22 - 27")


The return of the osprey to nest in the Scottish Highlands in 1955, after a lapse of nearly half a century, was hailed with delight by bird-lovers everywhere.

Extraordinary measures were taken by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to safeguard the noble fish-hawks at their eyrie by Loch Garten after egg-thieves had brought the birds' first efforts to nought. Now numerous pairs are established safely in the wild mountain country which was the home of their ancestors, and from which they were driven by the persecution of Victorian keepers and trophy hunters.

All through the years of the osprey's banishment as a breeding species, however, a few of these birds have visited Norfolk annually on migration. Indeed, more have been seen here than in any other part of Britain. These are thought to be passing visitors from Scandinavia.

They call on their way north in spring and again on their journey southward in autumn and sometimes non-breeders stay to fish in the Broads and Breydon Water for weeks at a time during the summer. They look almost as large as herons as they circle round and they seldom miss when they plunge to take a fish from the water.

Many a time have I seen them lift their prey in their talons and take it to a post on Breydon or Hickling Broad and sometimes they will alight in a tree to enjoy their meal. For some reason they appear to do most of their fishing early and late in the day and it may be that they are able to see the fish more clearly when the sun is low in the sky and casts strong side-shadows.

Osprey diving for fishSometimes they soar at a considerable height, but when fishing they fly fairly low or even very close to the surface. Their keen eyes are able to detect fish even when the water is ruffled by a stiff breeze, but no doubt they are most successful in the calm of the evening when the water is clear and the fish are rising.

They are strong, heavy birds, easily distinguished from other large hawks by their rounded wings and rather laboured movements when they are on patrol. They drop with tremendous weight and force upon their prey and grip the fish in talons which, as Sir Thomas Browne observed 300 years ago, are 'of an extraordinary roughness for the better fastening and holding...'

Browne also noted that ospreys sometimes seized coots on the Broads and this has been confirmed elsewhere, but such departures from habit are quite exceptional.

The fish most commonly taken in local waters are roach, but small pike are caught occasionally. On the estuaries, flounders are a common prey and Ticehurst, in his 'Birds of Suffolk' considers that in east coast estuaries the grey mullet is the favourite fish taken.

In mountainous regions where the birds nest, the handiest fish are salmon and trout and this is probably why ospreys are still persecuted unmercifully throughout Norway. In Sweden, however, these fine hawks are given full protection, and the authorities offer a large reward for information leading to the conviction of people who shoot ospreys!

By Ted Ellis

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.