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Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Osprey in flight


  • More than 50 centimetres (20 inches) long.
  • Wingspan can measure up to 1.8 metres (6 feet).


  • Osprey characteristics are easily seen and good field marks for identification include:
    • a brownish black back
    • white on all under-parts
    • a slightly crested head
    • long semi-pointed wings held with a definite crook at the wrist

  • Winters are spent as far south as Central America.
Natural History


  • Is seldom found away from water in all natural regions except the grasslands and the alpine subregion.


  • The osprey, also known as the fish hawk, feeds exclusively on fish which it captures by diving into the water with legs thrust forward and talons extended to grasp its prey.
  • Such dives are made anywhere from 15 to 60 metres (50 to 200 feet) above the water and often carry the bird well below the surface.

When Active

  • The osprey usually arrives in Alberta in late April and starts its way back to its wintering grounds in October.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Large bulky nests are built at high points, including the tops of:
    • tall dead trees
    • telephone poles
    • rock pinnacles overlooking water
  • Like eagles, the osprey returns year after year and the nest becomes a growing landmark.
  • Two to four buff-coloured eggs with varied markings are laid.
Conservation and Management


The osprey is classified as Sensitive in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:


  • The species is uncommon but widespread, and is vulnerable to local disturbance of nesting sites.

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the osprey is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified as a non-game species.


Page Information

Updated: Jan 8, 2014