Bird of the Week: Osprey

Hunted to extinction a century ago in the UK, thanks to re-introductions the osprey is enjoying a tentative resurgence.

Published 12 Aug 2019, 16:31 BST
Osprey catching a salmon trout in Finland. These mighty birds are making slow but steady recovery ...
Osprey catching a salmon trout in Finland. These mighty birds are making slow but steady recovery in carefully managed parts of the UK.
Photograph by Steve Bloom Images, Alamy

With a full wingspan of around five feet, the mighty osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a formidable and charismatic raptor. Whilst both sexes share rich, sleek brown upperparts and cream underparts, the females are distinguished by their larger size and their medallion of brown streaks mottled on their chest. Both sport a dark mask around their golden eyes.

In the UK, ospreys are mostly found in Scotland between spring and autumn after migrating from West Africa. Across the globe, they are present on every continent apart from Australia and Antarctica. These cosmopolitan birds are usually piscivore, making rivers, lakes and coastal areas ideal nesting areas. 

Ospreys nest near water: their preferred prey is fish.
Photograph by Chris Gomersall, RSPB Images

However, ospreys became extinct in the UK during the 20thcentury after years of persecution by egg collectors and specimen collectors. Hope was restored in the mid-1950s, when a pair nested near the shores of Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands. After three years of failing to breed and suspected nest raiding, George Waterston, Director of RSPB Scotland, set up ‘Operation Osprey’. Through 24-hour surveillance and sheer determination, the Loch Garten ospreys hatched three chicks in 1959. It was decided that to ensure greater protection of ospreys, the nest would be open to public viewing to ignite awareness and support.

This year marks the Loch Garten Osprey Centre’s 60thbirthday, where an exhibition dedicated to the triumphant ‘Operation Osprey’ is being showcased. Through RSPB Scotland’s continuous protection, there are now 250 breeding pairs across the UK. 

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