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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Pandion haliaetus

Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus (Linnaeus, 1758)
English Name: Osprey
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Check-list of North American birds. Seventh edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C. [as modified by subsequent supplements and corrections published in The Auk]. Also available online:
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: B-OSPR
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Aves Accipitriformes Pandionidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S5B (Mar 2015)
BC List: Yellow
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
SARA Schedule:
General Status Canada: 4 - Secure (2005)
Migratory Bird Convention Act:
Ecology & Life History
General Description: Ospreys have long narrow wings, dark brown upperparts, white underparts, a white head with a prominent dark eye streak, and dark wrist patches (visible in flight) on the underside of the wings. Immatures have pale buff edging on the dark feathers of the upper surface. Females are more likely than males to have a necklace of dark streaking. Average length 56-64 cm, wingspan 147-183 cm.
Global Reproduction Comments: Nesting phenology varies throughout the range. For example, in Florida, eggs are laid from late November to early March, with a peak from December to mid-January. In the Chesapeake Bay region, ospreys first arrive at nests early to mid-March, lay eggs from late March to mid-May, with a peak in April. In southern New England, ospreys arrive beginning in mid- to late March, and eggs are laid between early April to early June, with a peak in mid- to late April. In east-central Labrador, ospreys arrive around early May, and eggs are laid from mid-May to mid-June.In southeastern British Columbia, ospreys arrive in mid- to late April, with egg laying from early May (peak) to late May.

Clutch size is 1-4 (most often 3). Incubation, usually mainly by the female (male provides food), lasts 5-6 weeks. Young fledge in around 50-60 days and thereafter are dependent on their parents for up to several additional weeks. Individuals first breed usually at 3 years, sometimes at 4-5 years.

Delays in clutch initiation, such as caused when Canada geese occupy nest sites, may cause a reduction in reproductive output (Steeger and Ydenberg, 1993, Can. J. Zool. 71:2141-2146). Number of young fledged increases with increased abundance of food resources. Large numbers may nest in a relatively small area when food resources are adequate and nesting sites are plentiful.
Global Ecology Comments: Raccoons can be a major source of nesting failure in some areas.
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
Y /
Y /
Y /
na /
Global Migration Comments: Breeding populations in northern North America are migratory. They arrive in northern breeding areas March-May, begin southward migration in August, and are generally gone from the north by September-November

In Costa Rica, migration occurs mainly September-October and March-April (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Eastern and midwestern populations winter in northern South America, Caribbean, Central America, U.S.; western populations winter in Mexico, Central America, and northwestern South America (Ewins and Houston 1992).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Forest / Conifer Forest - Dry / Unknown
Forest / Conifer Forest - Mesic (average) / Unknown
Forest / Conifer Forest - Moist/wet / Unknown
Forest / Deciduous/Broadleaf Forest / Unknown
Forest / Mixed Forest (deciduous/coniferous mix) / Unknown
Lakes / Lake / Unknown
Ocean / Intertidal Marine / Unknown
Ocean / Marine Island / Unknown
Other Unique Habitats / Estuary / Unknown
Riparian / Riparian Forest / Unknown
Stream/River / Stream/River / Unknown
Global Habitat Comments: Ospreys occur primarily along rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and seacoasts. They often cross land between bodies of water. They typically build large stick nests on living or dead trees and also use numerous man-made structures such as utility poles, wharf pilings, windmills, microwave towers, chimneys, and channel markers (Henny, in Palmer 1988, Campbell et al. 1990). Nests are usually near or above water.

Food Habits: Piscivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Ospreys eat almost exclusively fishes (see Palmer 1988 for detailed account of food). Species composition of diet may vary greatly from one area to another. Sometimes ospreys eat rodents, birds, other small vertebrates, or crustaceans.

Ospreys capture prey with a feet-first plunge into shallow water, usually by flight hunting, sometimes from perch. Rarely they have been photographed capturing two fishes at once, one in each foot.
Global Phenology: Diurnal: Adult, Immature
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 64/ / 1568
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: Ospreys breed throughout much of the world (not in South America). In the New World, they nest from northwestern Alaska across boreal Canada to Labrador and Newfoundland, and south to Baja California, northwestern mainland Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, U.S. Gulf Coast, Florida, and the West Indies. During the northern winter, ospreys in the New World range from California, the U.S. Gulf Coast, and Bermuda south through Central America to South America. In the U.S., primary wintering areas include central California, southern Texas, the Gulf coast, and southern Florida, though the winter range also includes other areas in the southern and southeastern U.S. and various inland sites (Root 1988). The species is also widespread in the Old World (AOU 1998).
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Jan 29, 2010
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
References and Related Literature
American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.
Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Part 1. Bull. U.S. Natl. Mus. 137. 409 pp.
Bird, D. M., editor. 1983. Biology and management of bald eagles and ospreys. MacDonald. 325 pp.
Campbell, R. W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. M. Cooper, G. W. Kaiser, and M. C. McNall. 1990b. The birds of British Columbia. Volume 2. Nonpasserines: diurnal birds of prey through woodpeckers. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, B.C. 636 pp.
Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J.M. Cooper, G.W. Kaiser, and M.C.E. McNall. 1990b. The Birds of British Columbia Vol. 2: Nonpasserines: Diurnal Birds of Prey through Woodpeckers. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC.
Demarchi, M.W. and M.D. Bently. 2005. Best Management Practices for Raptor Conservation during Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia. B.C. Minist. of Environ., Victoria, B.C. MoE BMP Series.
Dennis, R. 1991. Ospreys. Colin Baxter Photography. 48 pp.
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in Jeopardy: the Imperiled and Extinct Birds of the United States and Canada, Including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.
Evans, D. L. 1982. Status reports on twelve raptors. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Scientific Report No. 238. 68 pp.
Ewins, P. J. 1995. Recovery of osprey populations in Canada. Bird Trends (Canadian Wildlife Service) (4):14-16.
Ewins, P. J., and C. S. Houston. 1992. Recovery patterns of ospreys, PANDION HALIAETUS, banded in Canada up to 1989. Can. Field-Nat. 106:361-365.
Fisher, A.K. 1893. The hawks and owls of the United States in their relation to agriculture. Washington U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Bull. no. 6. 210 pp.
Fishman, M. S., and M. Scheibel. 1990. Osprey productivity on Long Island 1978-1987: a decade of stabilization. Kingbird 40:2-9.
Gerrard, J. M., et al. 1993. Water-bird population changes in 1976-1990 on Besnard Lake, Saskatchewan: increases in loons, gulls, and pelicans. Can. J. Zool. 71:1681-1686.
Hagan, J. M., III, and J. R. Walters. 1990. Foraging behavior, reproductive success, and colonial nesting in ospreys. Auk 107:506-521.
Henny, C. J. 1986. Osprey (PANDION HALIAETUS): section 4.3.1, US Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual. Tech. Rep. EL-86-5. US Army Engineers Waterways Expt. Sta., Vicksburg, Mississippi. 36 pp.
Johnsgard, P. A. 1990. Hawks, eagles, and falcons of North America. Smithsonian Inst. Press, Washington, D.C. xvi + 403 pp.
Kirk, D. A., D. Hussell, and E. Dunn. 1995. Raptor population status and trends in Canada. Bird Trends (Canadian Wildlife Service) 4:2-9.
Lefranc, M. N., Jr., and R. L. Glinski. 1988. Southwest raptor management issues and recommendations. Pages 375-392 in Glinski et al., eds. Proc. Southwest raptor management symposium and workshop. National Wildlife Federation Science and Tech. Ser. No. 11.
Martin, C. O., W. A. Mitchell, and D. A. Hammer. 1986. Osprey nesting platforms. Section 5.1.6, US Army Corps of Engineers Wildlife Resources Management Manual. Tech. Rep. EL-86-21. Waterways Expt. Station, Vicksburg, Mississippi. 31 pp.
National Geographic Society (NGS). 1983. Field guide to the birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC.
Palmer, R. S., editor. 1988a. Handbook of North American birds. Vol. 4. [Diurnal raptors, part 1]. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. vii + 433 pp.
Pendleton, B. A. G., B. A. Millsap, K. W. Cline, and D. M. Bird. 1987. Raptor management techniques manual. National Wildlife Federation, Sci. and Tech. Ser. No. 10. 420 pp.
Peterson, R. T. 1969. The status of the osprey. Pages 333-337 in J. J. Hickey. Peregrine falcon populations, their biology and decline. Univ. Wisconsin Press, Madison. 596 pp.
Poole, A. F. 1989. Ospreys: a natural and unnatural history. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge and New York. 272 pp.
Poole, A. F., and B. Agler. 1987. Recoveries of ospreys banded in the United States, 1914-84. J. Wildl. Manage. 51:148-155.
Raffaele, H. A. 1983a. A guide to the birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Fondo Educativo Interamericano, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 255 pp.
Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds: An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.
Sibley, C.G., and B.L. Monroe, Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. xxiv + 1111 pp.
Steeger, C., H. Esselink, and R. C. Ydenberg. 1992. Comparative feeding ecology and reproductive performance of ospreys in different habitats of southeastern British Columbia. Can. J. Zool. 70:470-475.
Steidl, R. J., and C. R. Griffin. 1991. Growth and brood reduction of mid-Atlantic coast ospreys. Auk 108:363-370.
Steidl, R. J., C. R. Griffin, and L. J. Niles. 1991a. Differential reproductive success of ospreys in New Jersey. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:266-272.
Steidl, R. J., C. R. Griffin, and L. J. Niles. 1991b. Contaminant levels of osprey eggs and prey reflect regional differences in reproductive success. J. Wildl. Manage. 55:601-608.
Stiles, F. G. and A. F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA. 511 pp.
Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Titus, K., and M. R. Fuller. 1990. Recent trends in counts of migrant hawks from northeastern North America. Journal of Wildlife Management 54:463-470.
Vahle, J. R., N. L. Dodd, and S. Nagiller. 1988. Osprey. Pages 37-47 in Glinski et al., eds. Proc. Southwest Raptor Manage. Symp. and Workshop. National Wildlife Federation Sci. and Tech. Ser. No. 11.
Wiedner, D. S., and P. Kerlinger. 1989. Myth or fact: sexing ospreys. Hawk Migr. Stud. 15(1):19-20, 24.

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 2010. Species Summary: Pandion haliaetus. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Feb 6, 2023).