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Habitat and food

Adult male osprey in flight, Scotland

Image: Chris Gomersall

Ospreys are found in a variety of freshwater, brackish and marine environments. The most important habitat requirement is the presence of ample supplies of medium-sized fish obtainable near the surface of clear unpolluted water. Several birds sometimes congregate at good feeding sites.

The osprey is a specialist feeder, relying on medium sized fish, both marine and fresh-water. The bird will fly above the water’s surface to locate fish, sometimes gliding and soaring up to 70 metres high.

The exact catching technique varies with the type of fish, but they all involve a nearly vertical plunge dive with wings half-folded and feet thrown forward at last moment. The fish are caught in talons after a dive to a maximum depth of 1m. The fish is held head first, like a torpedo, when carried to a perch or to the nest.

The long, curved talons and the short spines covering the underside of the toes assist with the capture and holding of the fish. The bird is also able to close its nostrils to stop water getting up its nose during a dive.

Bird guide