Wildlife In Focus | Osprey

David Coultham

Species Guide | Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

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Video | Everything You Need To Know About The Osprey


From a distance, the Osprey can be mistaken for a large gull; due to their white mottled chest, belly, and wing feathers. The rest of their markings are shades of brown. They also have slightly angled wing stances similar to that of a gull.

Image Credit: Harry Collins


Ospreys feed almost exclusively on fish and use their acute vision to spot and then catch fish near the water’s surface. They sometimes eat small mammals and reptiles as well as take advantage of carrion.

Did You Know? The Osprey has a reversible outer toe. This enables them to grip using two toes at the front and two at the back of their prey. Ospreys and Owls are the only raptors that have this feature.


If you are looking to spot Ospreys in the British Isles, the main breeding areas are the central Highlands of Scotland as well as central Scotland and Tayside. Re-introduction programs have also been successful in the south of England and Wales. They inhabit marine, intertidal, and wetland environments; where they set up their breeding grounds in rocky outcrops and the forks of trees. They also readily take to manmade structures such as purpose-made poles and platforms.

Did You Know? The Osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor in the world; second only to the Peregrine Falcon!

Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK1, whereby light green indicates established populations.


Ospreys start to breed from 3 years of age, making a nest from sticks, driftwood, and seaweed. They breed in the U.K. and Europe but migrate to warmer climates during the winter2. Breeding pairs mate for life, and have a single brood each year; which consists of up to 4 eggs that are hatched after 43 days and fully fledged after 69 days. Both parents look after the eggs and the youngsters3.

Osprey Call:

Greg McLachlan, xeno-canto.org

Image Credit: Harry Collins


Wing Span4
145 to 170cm
Body Weight51.2 to 2.0 kilograms
Longevity39 Years

Did You Know? Ospreys in the wild have been know to live up to 20 years!


They have no natural predators in the U.K.

Conservation Status

Persecuted by mankind and impacted by mankind’s use of DDT, the Osprey was considered extinct in the U.K. by the late 19th century, although it appears that a handful may have managed to survive in Scotland right up to 1916, at which point there were no successful breeding pairs in the British Isles for nearly 40 years.

Legal protection and the phasing out of DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane – a synthetic pesticide) has enabled breeding pairs from Scandinavia to recolonize habitat in Scotland. They are still though classed as Amber Species in the U.K. due to their historical status. The International Union for Conservation Of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Osprey as Least Concern from a global standpoint.

Conservation Status

Conservation Status


  1. Population data based on BTO assessment
  2. EuropeBirdPortal
  3. Poole, Alan F. Ospreys, A Natural and Unnatural History 1989
  4. Featherbase
  5. RSPB
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