Ospreys are a widely distributed member of the family Accipitridae, which includes hawks, eagles, kites, harriers and old world vultures. They can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. Osprey are a migratory bird. They will leave the parts of their range that have a more temperate climates when the temperatures begin to decrease. The birds that we see here in the summer will typically spend their winters south of the US. Many will head down to South America for the winter. This is the only time that osprey can be found in South America.Osprey typically nest near a fresh water source such as a lake, river or large pond, they can also nest near coastal water. The nest is typically made up of sticks and is built on a tree, utility pole or special osprey platform. The female will lay a clutch of two to four eggs which take about 5 weeks to incubate.
Osprey are sometimes called fishing hawks however they are not truly hawks. Hawks have 4 toes on their feet 3 that face forward and one that faces back. Osprey are like owls and can have 3 toes in front and one in back or can shift one toe and have two in front and two in back.
This ability to shift its toes is an adaptation that Osprey have that help it to catch its favorite prey. Osprey primarily eat fish. They will eat other prey if fish are not available however they are extremely adapted for hunting fish. Besides its toe shifting ability the osprey also has sharp scales called spispicules on their feet to help them hold onto a slippery fish. They also have the ability to close their nostrils to keep water out when they dive.
To catch a fish the osprey will hover high above the water, usually from 30 to 120 feet above the surface, until it spots its prey and then it will dive down into the water, talons first, down to a depth of about 3 feet. It grabs the fish with its specialized talons and then begins the hard work of taking off from the water with the fish. To make it easier to fly the osprey will usually turn the fish head first to help eliminate unnecessary drag. It will then usually take the fish to the nest or a favorite feeding perch to feast.