Osprey Pandion haliaetus, fishing at dawn at Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Feeding and habitat

Ospreys are found in a variety of freshwater, brackish and marine environments.

Habitat

The most important habitat requirement is the presence of large watercourses such as rivers, lakes or coastal areas. This ensures an ample supply of medium sized fish near the water surface for them to eat.

Clean unpolluted water is highly beneficial to them. 

In areas providing high quality habitat and good food supplies you can get many congregating together.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus, adult female landing at eyrie with moss

Feeding behaviour

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.

Osprey Pandion haliaetus, male hovering Scottish Highlands