Osprey photo by Brian Schug


This large, vocal bird is difficult to mistake for any other species, except while on the nest, when its white head seen sticking up could make a viewer think of a bald eagle. However, where these birds put their nest is a dead give-away that it’s an osprey. The bird is dark on the back, almost uniformly white on the chest and belly, save for a dark ‘necklace’ of varying proportions, more usually on the female. Head is white with a dark eye line; wings in flight often in an ‘M’ shape as it soars or hovers over water. When perched, the tips of the long wings extend past the tail. Bill is black and short, powerful legs and feet grey. Close up or in the hand, other distinctions that separate this bird from other raptors are sharp spicules on the scales on the undersides of the feet and toes; very curved talons that are, in cross section, uniquely rounded; and unusually long, slitlike, closable nostrils (nares). Immature birds have orange eyes, that change to the adult yellow in their second year, with a buffy edge to the back and wing covert feathers that wears off during their first winter. The osprey is a very old species, thought to have broken off from the ancestral accipitriform before any of the other diurnal raptors radiated off, and is considered closer to the hawks, even more so to the kites, than to the falcons.


Meet our resident Ospreys:

Danu was one of two birds that were removed from their nest in June 2011. The male parent had hit a power line and shattered his wing and because the two hatchlings in the nest were so young, there was no way the female alone could both brood them and catch food for them. They had a better chance for survival in foster nests. Despite concerted searches by the Army Corps of Engineers, EPUD and EWEB, no suitable foster nest could be found (most already had too many youngsters). The Cascades Raptor Center was asked to care for them, but unfortunately the hatchlings had suffered too long without both parents; one of the hatchlings died and Danu was developmentally disabled. She was very late to stand, to eat on her own, to flap or try to fly, or to figure out how to land. She is physically stunted and never developed a normal fear response to things of which any wild bird would be instinctively wary. It was felt she would have difficulty learning to fish or migrate, and no chance of survival in the wild. She has no fear of people and has adapted well to life in human care. Danu is a valued member of our Education Team and is one of the few Osprey in the U.S. who is trained to travel to outreach programs. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Danu:
David & Judy Berg  •  Susanna MacDonald  •  Spunky Gray & Barb Tyler  •  The Westlind Family
Gordon Owens   •  Moss Crossing  •  Marilou Noffsinger  •  Andreas Wenzel & Kathleen Conery  
Mary Howard  •  Steven Stillwell & Elise Kubisiak


Scientific Name

Pandion haliaetus


Length 17 - 22"
Wing Span 56"
Weight 2.4 - 3.8 lb.


Length 19 - 24"
Wing Span 60"
Weight 2.6 - 4.4 lb.


[Osprey Hatchling] Improving; listed in 12 states as endangered, threatened or a species of special conservation concern. Numbers plummeted and the species was extirpated in many areas in the middle of the last century because of DDT, as well as the development of coastlines and resulting loss of nesting snags. This species has responded very well to artificial nesting platforms. Because, like the bald eagle, birds return to their natal area once they reach breeding age, reintroduction programs have been successful by using young birds taken from nests in areas where the population is healthy and then hacking them out in their new territory.


Near water, especially water with extensive shallow areas; often found in large numbers around man-made reservoirs, inland lakes, rivers, river deltas, coastal regions. Need snags or other elevated nesting sites with clear access to the water.


Primarily fish, though remains of other prey have been found in nests, and anecdotal sightings exist of them hunting squirrels or even pigeons. One of the most specialized birds of prey, it plunges into water both head- and feet- first. Powerful flight is needed when taking off after catching prey. Specialized flight muscles allow the osprey to get airborne out of the water while grasping heavy prey items, often then shaking the water off their feathers while in mid-air flight. Bald eagles diving that deep would have to swim to shore.


Common call is a loud, whistled Kyew, kyew, kyew, kyew, kyew. Female calls are generally stronger and lower pitch than males, which may be due to the females’ larger body size.


Osprey are versatile nest users and will use a variety of tall structures, both natural and artificial, to avoid mammalian p redation. Natural sites include tall trees, cacti and rock towers. Increasingly, they use artificial structures such as channel markers, cell-phone towers and utility poles, as well as artificial nest platforms erected especially for osprey. Nests are never far from shallow water, as their primary prey item is fish. Nest selection is often within a commutable distance to fishing grounds (10-20 km). Males generally select nest sites and begin building the wood stick nest before the arrival of females. Females will arrange the materials in the nest. Males and females share incubation of the 1-4 eggs, with the female spending significantly more time in the nest while the male continues hunting for the family.

Most Common Problems

Species numbers have been increasing in recent decades due to the ban of DDT in North America and the increase in artificial nest sites. Levels of organochlorine pesticides (DDT/ DDE) can still be high in some birds who live near heavily agricultural or industrial sites in the Northeast U.S. Some individuals may also be exposed to these chemicals on their wintering grounds in Central and South America. Organochlorine pesticides are persistent in the body and have been linked to lowered reproductive success in many raptors. Historically shot in North America (though fewer birds reported killed in this way in recent years), shooting is still a major cause of death in Central and South America. Collisions with power lines often found near dams, as well as other stationary and/or moving objects are a problem, especially for younger birds. Electrocutions are possible when adults land or attempt to nest on power poles with transformers, which may be the highest perches in the area. Utility companies usually are very willing to put up nesting platforms, as such a platform installed just a little bit higher than the power pole will successfully lure the birds away from the electrical lines.

Range Map

Essentially world-wide.



Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design