Tale Feathers! Osprey

Tale Feathers! Osprey, Pandion Heliaetus.

Tale Feathers! Osprey. An Osprey is a raptor. By definition this means a carnivorous medium to large sized bird such as a hawk, eagle, owl, or vulture. Raptors have a hooked beak and large sharp talons. They feed mainly on meat taken by hunting or on carrion.

However, the Osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It has special physical characteristics and unique behaviour that assists in hunting and catching prey. As a result of these unique characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genusPandion and family, Pandionidae.

ManButur Suantara. Wildlife Photography Sawidji Studio Art and Photography.

See them in Nature. Hear them in Nature. Understand and respect them in Nature.

~ManButur Suantara

Taxonomy and Origins of its Name.

Ospreys and Eagles look very similar and both belong to the order Accipitriformes. But they belong to different families. Eagles and hawks are of the family Accipitridae with many species in this family. The Osprey on the other hand are the sole members of the family Pandionade. With only four subspecies based on geographic areas.

The name Pandionidae comes from the name of a Greek King Pandion who turned into an eagle. And the name Haliaetus is derived from the Greek word for sea eagle.

” The common name, osprey, comes from Late Middle English ospray, from Anglo-Norman ospriet, from Medieval Latin avis prede  which means “bird of prey“, a generic term apparently confused with this specific bird in Old French on its similarity to ossifrage.

Osprey Bird of Prey
Osprey Bird of Prey

Differences Between Ospreys and Eagles

Whilst Eagles come in many different colours the Osprey does not. The Osprey has a white head with a brown stripe that goes through their eyes as well as white chest feathers which is not found in Eagles. This is an easy way to identify an Osprey at sight.

They are smaller than most Eagles despite being a large bird with a wingspan of 70 inches. An Eagles’ wingspan can reach 80 inches. Ospreys are lighter in build than its Eagle counterpart.

Tale Feathers Osprey. Wildlife Photography Sawidji Studio. ManButur Suantara.

Eagles average lifespan may be up to 30 years whilst an Ospreys’ approximately 15-20 years in the wild. In captivity these numbers may change drastically.

Their feeding habits are also very different as Ospreys feed primarily on fish whilst Eagles have a much more diverse diet. Due to these similarities as well as differences, the Osprey can be a victim of larger Eagles if their territories overlap.

What do you find most intriguing about them?

How they catch their prey. They actually dive at high speed towards the water. They break water a lot with their body.. Other eagles just catch from the surface of the water.

~ManButur Suantara

Natures’ Gift of Adaptation

Ospreys have been around a very long time. Fossil belonging to earlier species of Osprey have been discovered in California and Florida America that date back to the latest Clarendonian period. Which is about 13 millions years old.

perhaps this is because Nature gifts us with amazing powers of adaptation. the Osprey is a fantastic example of this. Because they eat primarily fish, they have some characteristics that have evolved to make them even better fish hunters.

  • reversible outer toes, they have two facing forward and two back, to help hold their catch with stronger grip.
  • sharp spicules on the underside of the toes so they can grab slippery fish better.
  • closable nostrils to keep out water during dives
  • backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch
  • dense plumage which is oily and stops them from getting waterlogged.

Osprey Bird of Prey in flight
Osprey hunting fish.

A Most Independent Bird.

Those enthusiastic about bird watching are usually aware of the importance of a birds Migratory patterns. With the Osprey, its interesting that this bird chooses to migrate alone. They make long journeys across the globe alone. Most other birds who make similar journeys will travel in pairs or groups as it raises the chances of their survival. But the Osprey is independent even as a juvenile. Parents don’t travel with their young. Even breeding pairs make this journey separately. Whereby females will start the journey earlier and the males follow after, both on their own.

Osprey by ManButur Suantara. Sawidji Studio Wildlife Photography Articles by Dewi Dian Reich
Western Osprey in flight

This bird does a migrational journey that is intercontinental. Anywhere you are in the world you are likely nearby to one of their habitats. Most interesting is, the Osprey do their migration journey alone. This may not sound like anything in particular, but most other birds that have long migration journey travel in flocks. Even some eagles they do this journey in larger groups. But the Osprey travels alone.

~ManButur Suantara

Are they hard to find?

Yes.. because perhaps they are all individual travellers who go their own way. So there is no sure way of guessing where they will turn up. No group movement patterns that you can follow.

Osprey by ManButur Suantara. Sawidji Studio Wildlife Photography Articles by Dewi Dian Reich

What did you learn from your study of this bird?

They have vulnerabilities that are unique actually. Due to their own natural behaviours, like their migratory patterns. This makes them more vulnerable. Their smaller size also makes them subject to other natural predators such as other eagles.

ManButur Suantara

Wildlife Photography and Bird Enthusiasts aid in Conservation.

Photographers and their communities often pool together information on central platforms. Sharing information brings to light many new discoveries about different species. Identifyers, behaviours, locations. This data is useful for researchers to understand changes in the environment. Specifically for the Osprey there is  Osprey-watch.org. This is the global site for mapping osprey nest locations and logging observations on reproductive success.

In Indonesia we share a lot of information with other countries through platforms such as ‘Burung Laut Indonesia‘ (Seabird Indonesia) and E Bird. These platforms and programs make it possible for even hobbyists to register and record sightings etc. The ability to place information in a central location makes this powerful globally.

Tale Feathers Osprey
Osprey Pandion Heliaetus

Human Impact on Populations of Osprey

Even though they are not classified yet as an endangered category there is evidence for concern. Its a good opportunity for us to take lessons from the past and prevent any further damage.


The osprey became extinct as a breeding bird in England in 1840 and in Scotland in 1916, though it continued to occur as a passage migrant. There is also evidence of decline in previously populated areas in Australia. Locations like the Spencer Gulf and along the lower Murray River have not been visited by Ospreys for decades. This is due to urbanisation.

Pollution and Pesticides

Many things threaten the Osprey. Polluted lakes, rivers, and streams, and the loss of habitat along waterways. They are also sensitive to Eagles. As they are the main competitors of Ospreys for the ecological niche that they are in. Being aerial, fish eating bird of prey.

There was a sad account in history where the populations of Osprey dropped dramatically. It was discovered it was due to the impact of DDT pesticide on the metabolism of Ospreys that made their eggs too weak. Fortunately this pesticide was banned after the 60’s and 70’s and the Ospreys have recovered from this setback.

Osprey in Literature and Iconography

It is not a surprise to discover that the Osprey has appeared in Literature as heroic and majestic. The representations embody virtues and qualities that are admirable.

The osprey is mentioned in the famous Chinese folk poem “guan guan ju jiu”. In this poem, the Osprey is considered to be a symbol of fidelity and harmony between a husband and wife. Because Ospreys pair for life.

In Buddhism, the Osprey is sometimes known as the ‘King of Birds’. They are mentioned in ‘The Jātaka: Or, Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births’, no. 486.

In heraldry, the osprey is typically depicted as a white eagle, often maintaining a fish in its talons or beak, and termed a “sea-eagle”. In history, regarded as a symbol of vision and abundance. Ospreys are featured on more than 50 international postage stamps.

Ospreys are a common feature of First nations artwork in the Pacific Northwest, such as Kwakwakaʼwakw art. Most have heard of the symbolism of the Thunderbird, it is often the Osprey that are used to depict this mythical  thunderbird.

Reflections…

Sawidji Studio Photography Bali
Western Osprey in flight

Whenever we write about a particular bird for our episodes of Tale Feathers, it seems we learn something that connects us to other parts of the world. Natures’ presence in history and as symbols in different cultures across the earth have a thread that connects us. So, it is quite

In Indonesia we have a certain love of eagles in a particular way. Perhaps there is a subconscious connection to eagles because of the Garuda as our National Emblem. Representing virtue and wisdom, independence and justice. When we look at the Osprey. They carry so much of these qualities. Strength and virtues, especially of survival. Its uncompromising independence is a noteworthy symbol of survival.

Description

The osprey /ˈɒspri, -preɪ/[2] (Pandion haliaetus), also called sea hawkriver hawk, and fish hawk, is a diurnalfish-eating bird of prey with a cosmopolitan range. It is a large raptor reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and 180 cm (71 in) across the wings. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts.

The osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply. It is found on all continents except Antarctica, although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant.

Ref Wikipedia


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