Scotland's Wildlife: Osprey

Osprey (c) RSPB images

With its white belly and black wingtips and wrist patches, the osprey is easily recognisable.

Having become extinct as a breeding bird in Scotland in 1916, the osprey re-colonised naturally in 1954 with around 150 pairs now breeding here.

Unlike most UK birds of prey, ospreys have adapted exclusively to a diet of fish. They have been hunted by fish farmers who see them as a threat to their stock, and this, along with the negative effects of pesticides and disturbances, has led to ospreys being placed on the amber list of UK birds under threat.

Where to see them
The osprey's main UK stronghold is in Scotland; nest sites with public viewing facilities can be found at Loch Garten, Speyside, and Loch of the Lowes, Perth. Further south there is a public viewpoint at Bassenthwaite in Cumbria. Ospreys can also be seen near almost any large body of freshwater during spring and autumn migration.

When to see them
The birds spend the winter months in Africa, returning in late March and April. The male precedes the female, performing sky dances near the eyrie which escalate when the female returns. They leave for warmer climes again in August and September.

Page first published on Monday 7th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008

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Latin Name: Pandion haliaetus
Gaelic Name: Cairneach. Iolaire-uisge Iolaire-iasgaich
Body length 60cm
Wingspan 150cm
Weight 1.8kg

Physical Description
The wings are white below, marked with brown. The legs and feet are grey/green in colour, with thorny protuberances so that they can hang onto the slippery fish. Adult birds are dark brown above and white below, and young birds have brown feathers with white tips. They have a distinctive brown breast band which is more prominent in females. The head is white with a thick, dark brown stripe through the eye.

Scottish Distribution
Breeds on the mainland, from Dornoch to Lomond.

In Scotland, ospreys nest in trees, usually near lochs and rivers. In other parts of their range they will also nest on sea cliffs and on the ground.

Ospreys feed exclusively on fish, mostly trout and pike in Scotland. They plunge into the water to catch prey, with talons that are well adapted to gripping fish.

Egg laying occurs in mid-April. A clutch of 2-3 eggs is laid in a large nest of branches and twigs, lined with moss. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 37 days. The young are fed by the female who tears tiny pieces of meat from prey brought to her by her mate.
At two weeks the young can move about the nest, and in a month they are preening and exercising their wings. The young are fully fledged in 53 days. In late August young birds head south. These young birds often stay south during their first summer. They usually form a pair at two years old and breed aged 3-5 years.

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