Osprey catching a fish


The osprey is a large, fish-eating bird of prey. Historically widely distributed, persecution and loss from egg collectors caused the population to crash, becoming extinct in England in 1847. After re-colonising Scotland, ospreys have been increasing southwards.

In 2009, after an absence of almost 200 years, ospreys returned to nest in Kielder Forest, Northumberland. With a growing population, ospreys are now being seen at locations across the country.

Osprey statistics

  • lifespan: 20-25 years
  • length: males 56-59cm and females 57-62cm
  • weight: males 1.4kg and females 1.6kg
  • wingspan: males 1.5m and females 1.6m
Osprey chicks

Osprey habitat, breeding and development

The ospreys main habitats are large bodies of water or estuaries, but small ponds are sometimes used if suitable food is around; they eat both freshwater and saltwater fish. They also nest in woodland edges or glades with dead trees. Osprey build distinctive nests, called eyries, in open trees but will also readily take to artificial nests built in their preferred locations by conservationists.

Ospreys start breeding between three and five years of age. Females lay between one and four eggs, although it's common for one egg not to hatch. An average brood size is two fledglings and the young birds become independent between five and six months. Sadly, human disturbance and other threats mean that many osprey young die before they are old enough to breed.

Migration and threats

Osprey migrate from Britain in August and September, mainly to West Africa. They have no natural predator but come under threat from human disturbance of nesting sites, egg collecting and shooting while on migration.

Did you know? Ospreys can travel over 3,000 miles on migration!

Osprey identification

Adult osprey have a white head with a speckled crown and distinctive black eye-stripe. Upper parts are a darkish brown while the underside is white with buff markings of the upper breast.

Juveniles are similar to adults, but have lighter brown upper parts with feathers edged in pale buff colour.

Staff holding an osprey chick with an identification ring on its leg

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