Pandionidae – Ospreys

Western Osprey Pandion halieatus ©Public Domain

The Pandionidae or Osprey family has recently been revised and the former lone species split into two species which are virtually identical but inhabit different areas of the world. They are also called fish eagles, sea hawks, river hawks, and fish hawks. They are a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey with a cosmopolitan range. They are large raptors, reaching more than 60cm in length and 180cm in wingspan.They are brown on the upper parts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts. They tolerate a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply. They are found on all continents except Antarctica, although in South America only as a non-breeding migrant.

As the other common names suggest, the ospreys’ diet consists almost exclusively of fish. They possess specialised physical characteristics and exhibit unique behaviour to assist in hunting and catching prey. As a result of these unique characteristics, they have their own taxonomic genus, Pandion and family, Pandionidae. Four subspecies were usually recognised, but one has recently been given full species status as Eastern Osprey which is found on the rivers and coastlines of Australia. Despite their propensity to nest near water, ospreys are not classed as sea eagles.

The two species:

Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Eastern Osprey Pandion cristatus

Species Links
  • Eastern Osprey Pandion cristatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    HBW Species Account
    Falco Haliaetus Linnaeus, 1758, Europe = Sweden. SE race sometimes referred to by name leucocephalus, but cristatus has priority. Proposal that races represent three species (on basis of morphological and genetic differences) requires further study. Recent trend to separate shorter-winged, whiter-headed and streakier-breasted race cristatus as full species, largely on genetic grounds, requires fuller review of evidence. Proposed races melvillensis (Melville I) and microhaliaetus (New Caledonia) both very similar to cristatus and here synonymized with it, although former sometimes considered valid. Four subspecies currently recognized.
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    Species Account
    The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) — also called fish eagle, sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk — is a diurnal, fish-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.
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    Cornell Species Account
    Unique among North American raptors for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them, Ospreys are common sights soaring over shorelines, patrolling waterways, and standing on their huge stick nests, white heads gleaming.
  • Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus

    RSPB Species Account
    Seen in flight from below the osprey has white or slightly mottled underparts. The long wings are angled, bending at the 'wrist' which has a black patch contrasting with the white wing linings, and at a distance it could be mistaken for a large gull.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 2

Useful Reading
  • DVD British Birds of Prey

    Narrated & Filmed by Paul Doherty 90 minutes 28 species covered £17.95 Bird Images DVD Guides, 28 Carousel Walk, Sherburn in Elmet, N Yorks LS25 6LP, United Kingdom
    See Fatbirder Review ISBN: Buy this book from
  • Lady of the Loch

    The Incredible Story of Britain's Oldest Osprey by Helen Armitage | 240 pages | Constable Robinson Publishing | Softcover | 2011
    S ee Fatbirder Review ISBN: 9781849017022 Buy this book from
  • RSPB Spotlight: Osprey

    | By Tim Mackrill | Bloomsbury Publishing | 2019 | Paperback | 128 Pages | colour photos| ISBN: 9781472956033 Buy this book from
  • The Rutland Water Ospreys

    | By Tim Mackrill | A & C Black | 2013 | Hardback | 160 pages | 200+ colour photos | 200+ colour & black & white illustrations | ISBN: 9781408174142 Buy this book from
  • International Osprey Foundation

    The International Osprey Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation, is dedicated to the continuing recovery and preservation of the osprey, others in the raptor family, wildlife and the environment as a whole. The Foundation conducts monitoring activities, and accumulates data specific to the breeding activities of the osprey population. The data is made available through the Foundations newsletter publication and can be obtained by interested parties/organizations upon request. The Foundation issues grants for researchers whose studies involve environmental concerns. The Foundation directs and participates in all areas of wildlife and habitat maintenance and restoration.
  • Osprey Project [UK]

    Welcome to the website of the Anglian Water Osprey Project in partnership with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and in Scotland, Roy Dennis MBE. The project is based at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. Ospreys are being re-introduced to England from the growing Scottish population. Satellite tracking is also being used to monitor the migration.
Other Links
  • Osprey - Ultimate Angler

    Terrific footage of Osprey catching a variety of fish…

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