The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a very visible resident of Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Because there are several nest platforms on the Refuge, they often can be seen flying around areas open to the public. Ospreys live near water and feed almost exclusively on fish. Because of this penchant for seafood, another common name is “fish hawk.” Ospreys are large birds of prey, having a wingspan of up to 5 feet and weighing up to 4 ½ pounds. Given their large size, they are quite distinctive with their white head, black eye patch, and black wings.
Ospreys are well adapted to their fish eating lifestyle, having the ability to move their toes so that there are two in front and two behind (better to grip the slippery fish). They also are very flexible and can tilt their wings to shield their eyes from the glare of the sun bouncing off the water. This ability allows them to better see their food just below the water’s surface. Ospreys can seal their nostrils when diving for fish and have barb-like scales on their feet to better grasp their slick prey.
As long as they have access to open water (and fish!), ospreys can live in many different habitats, and aren’t readily disturbed by the proximity of people. Because of this adaptability, they are found on all continents except Antarctica. They are a true conservation success story, having rebounded from a steep population decline due to pesticide use (DDT) in the 1970s.