Overview of the Diet of Ospreys

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The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large raptor that is found worldwide near bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, swamps, and seashores. It has a body length of approximately 18-24 inches with a wingspan of 5-6 feet. Ospreys have dark brown wings with a white head and chest. The white feathers are usually splashed with brown and females tend to have more brown splashes than males. They also have a brown mask over their eyes, a dark beak, and yellow eyes. Ospreys are migratory and breed in temperate climates during the summer months. After breeding and raising their chicks, they will head to the warmer tropics for the winter.

An osprey’s diet consists mainly of fish, which is why it is always found nesting and roosting near water. Unlike other birds of prey, the osprey’s body is specifically adapted to fishing. The osprey’s toes can be positioned in a way that enables the bird to have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward. This enables the osprey to grasp fish effectively from the water and then reposition it so that the head of the fish faces forward as the osprey takes to the air. The underneath surface of the feet have a roughed barb-like texture, which also helps the bird hold onto the slippery fish as it lifts it out of the water. The feathers covering the body of the osprey are coated in a waterproof oil, similar to that of ducks and other water foul, which helps them regain flight after catching their prey.

Because ospreys can be found all over the world, the type of fish that it consumes depends on the local availability that is offered. Osprey found near fresh water will catch fresh water fish such as trout, carp, sucker fish, and whitefish. If found near salt water in temperate climates during the summer, the diet will consist of salmon, flounder, and pollock. Osprey found in southern climates near salt water have been found to eat reef fish such as parrot fish, needle fish, angel fish, and butterfly fish.

The fish that these birds prey apon can only be up to 16 inches in length and weigh no more than 2 pounds. This is because osprey will need to take flight after securing its catch. If the fish is too large or too heavy for the bird to take off with, the osprey either risks loosing its fish to another predator or will simply drown in the water because it will not release the large fish.

Osprey rarely take other types of prey, as fish make up the bulk of their diet. In some situations, such as on the migratory path when fish may not be available, small mammals, birds, and carrion will be consumed.

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