Ospreys 101: The Basics

So, what’s so special about ospreys?

A raptor is a raptor is a raptor, right?

Not so fast! While ospreys share a lot of the same behaviors we expect from other birds of prey, there are plenty of traits that make ospreys unique and intriguing, both as individuals and as a species.

We’ve seen some pretty unique osprey behavior out here at the ranch because of the web camera. For one thing, we have cone to realize just how much each bird is an individual with distinctive physical and behavioral features – like we humans. For example, Ozzie (Harriet’s mate who died in 2014) had en enduring habit of trying to get Harriet off their eggs so he could take his turn incubating. He will sometimes take her wing in his beak and gently lift it. We called it the “Ozzie’s wing lift.” In contract, Hal just lands on Harriet in an effort to move her off the nest. Two birds and two totally different approaches to moving Harriet!

               Ozzie gently lifts Harriet’s wing. Screen cap courtesy of Grandad Rufus.

What makes ospreys particularly unique among birds of prey is that they are the sole member of the family, Pandionidae. There are four recognized subspecies of osprey, differentiated by geographic region, with few differences between them.

Hi, my name is Pandion haliaetus

The genus name, Pandion, comes from the mythical Greek king of the same name, who transformed into an eagle. Haliaetus is derived from the Greek word for sea eagle though the osprey is not considered a sea eagle.

The common name, osprey, comes from the Anglo-French word ospriet and the Medieval Latin word avis prede ‘bird of prey’, which, in turn, derives from the Latin avis praedae. There may also be an association with the Latin word ossifragaor ‘bone breaker’.

Ospreys have been around for a very long time. Bones belonging to an earlier species of Pandion have been found in both California and Florida and are estimated to be 13 million years old.

Learn more about these magnificent birds:

Ospreys 101: Characteristics and Behavior

Ospreys 101: Nesting and Chicks

Ospreys 101: Migration Basics

Ospreys 101: Sibling Rivalry

National Geographic Ospreys

Cornell University All About Birds Ospreys