How Ospreys Fish

One of the things that set osprey apart from other birds of prey is the simple fact they hunt and eat almost exclusively fish. Here at the reserve we are gearing up for our first osprey cruise of the season:  these trips provide a rare chance to actually see ospreys fishing, so we thought it would be a good idea to look into how ospreys actually manage to achieve this feat.  

Ospreys will fold these deadly talons in when near the eggs or chicks.

Ospreys have evolved extraordinary adaptations helping them become expert fish eaters. Starting with the feet, osprey talons are extremely long and sharp and combined with specialised scales on the toes, the osprey can easily grab and hold on to prey. One of these talon-clad toes is also reversible, this means that instead of having three forward pointing toes and one back, ospreys can point two forward and two back, this creates a powerful grip helping to prevent prey getting away.

Osprey catching a fish, photo by John Wright

The talons are the first thing that will hit the water when an osprey takes a dive; fishing trips often start with ospreys using a perch or simply circling a fishing ground. Ospreys have fantastic eyesight which is around 3-5 times better than humans, allowing them to see fish under the water. Once a fish has been spotted, the osprey may hover above the prey before diving. Once in the dive, the wings fold in, allowing the bird to reach spectacular speed. At the last moment the osprey whips its feet out in front of its body and uses those amazing talons to capture the fish.

Sometimes it can take a fishing Osprey up to a minute to lift its catch out of the water, photo by John Wright 

I find it truly amazing that ospreys are able to fish even in the most terrible conditions including mist, wind and rain. It just shows how amazingly adapted these birds are to catching and eating fish.  Every time I see ospreys  fishing  it amazes me.  It is truly one of the great spectacles of nature so let’s hope we are treated to lots of fishing this year!

If you would like to book a cruise and see the ospreys fish for yourself, please click here, or call 01572 770651

A photo from a previous cruise taken by Tim Merrison of an osprey with a fish at Normanton church