Species Spotlight: Ospreys

Ospreys can be found around bodies of water on every continent in the world, except Antarctica.

Published July 13, 2018

These distinctive birds of prey, infamous for their feet-first dive into water to grab fish, can grow to be between 3 and 4 pounds, and females are typically 30 percent larger than males. Their lifespans are typically between eight and 10 years. In the fall, ospreys in North America migrate to South America for the winter and return north in March.

Osprey in its nest

Females typically lay multiple eggs at a time, but not all eggs hatch at once. The hatchlings develop a pattern and coloration similar to their nests, allowing them to blend in easily as they grow, escaping threats from predators. The majority of nests are located on the top of wooden posts above or near bodies of water, and start out very narrow when the hatchlings are small. Adults begin to expand the nest using sticks and other debris to make it wider as the hatchlings grow.

Family dynamics are among the most fascinating aspects of this species. Females communicate to the males through a loud call, indicating that they need food. Males will then fly out, grab fish from the water with their powerful talons and return to the nest with their catch.

Osprey flying

Physical features of ospreys can be indicators of age and health. The eyes of this species typically change from orange to yellow over time. Believe it or not, the color of their tongues can be an indicator of their health! A pink tongue indicates good oxygen levels, while a gray tongue indicates that the osprey’s oxygen levels are low.

Recently, National Aquarium staff and students helped with local osprey research efforts, traveling to the Patuxent River to band young ospreys with experts from Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Stay tuned for more updates!

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