Osprey feeds mainly on fish caught in surface water. It flies 50 to 100 feet above the water until it sees a fish, then dives with its wings swept back. Its white underside makes it difficult for fish to see it against the sky. Just before it hits the water it thrusts its feet forward and grabs the fish in its talons. Sometimes it goes completely underwater. Although rare, an osprey has been known to catch two fish in one dive!
The curved talons and small hooks on the soles of its feet help the osprey catch and maintain a firm grip on its slippery prey as it flys back to its perch to eat. Its large outer toes can turn forward or backward, like those of an owl, improving its grip. Since the osprey seizes its prey as it is swimming away, it usually carries it aligned head first using both feet. This position also reduces the wind resistance in flight.
The fish in tow can be as large as its captor, so the osprey’s flying speed is sometimes slowed and larger birds may chase the osprey in an attempt to steal the catch. Rare, but known to have happened, is an osprey being dragged underwater and drowned by a large fish that has been too well gripped. The Opsrey underestimated the size and strength of the fish and could not let go!
Save the Beaches Fund has erected, funded and/or facilitated many osprey nesting platforms on the barrier islands and the mainland south shore. There is an affinity between the Save the Beaches folks and the Osprey.
Sometimes called a “Fish Hawk”,the Osprey is related to other birds of prey like hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons but it is the only member of its family, pandionidae. For more information, visit our Osprey Page.