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The Osprey

The Osprey

The Osprey is a bird of prey that feeds almost exclusively on fish and thus is found living near coastal regions, lakes or rivers. Learn more about it.

The Osprey, sometimes referred to as the sea hawk or fish eagle, is one of the most difficult bird species to spot in Spain. The Osprey is a bird of prey that feeds almost exclusively on fish and thus is found living near coastal regions, lakes or rivers. One of the best places to spot Osprey in Spain is in the south, near the mouth of the Guadalhorce River. Despite its name, the Osprey is not related to the Golden Eagle, one of the largest birds found in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Osprey is a raptor of medium size, with a white breast sometimes streaked in brown, greenish-yellow legs, a strong, sharp black hooked bill and white feet with powerful black talons which it uses to tightly hold on to its victims and prevent them from escaping. 

Ospreys are migratory birds that breed in the summer in northern Europe, mainly in Sweden, and in the winter travel across the Mediterranean to Africa.  Some of the identified and tagged European ospreys have been found as far south as Ghana. As the raptors migrate south, they often stop in Spain where they can be observed flying over rivers and lakes in the autumn months.

The Osprey in flight is a majestic sight as it slowly flaps its great wingspan followed by long glides.  When hunting for prey, the Osprey fish eagle flies over bodies of water in a figure eight. Once the bird’s prey is identified, the raptor sweeps down at a rapid speed with its wings and claws open, splashes into the water, which stuns its victim as it closes its claws around it, seizes the fish from the water and then returns to its nest to feed.

During mating season, the first Osprey eagles to return to the nest, usually to the same one as the previous year, are the males who repair the nest as they await the arrival of the females.  The males then attract their partners to the nest by a specific ritual of nose diving over the nest and using their tails to break the fall. Ospreys usually mate for life.

Female Ospreys come into maturity at about three years old.  The female usually lays two to four eggs and the mating pair generally spends about five months raising the young before they migrate south. During this time, the young Osprey fish eagles must learn all the important flight and fishing skills that they needs to survive.

Introducing Ospreys into Asturias

The Fund for the Protection of Wild Animals (FAPAS) has developed several projects to reintroduce permanent Osprey bird populations into the Iberian Peninsula. Currently in Spain, normally only migrating Osprey are spotted on their journey south. The purpose of these projects is to introduce a stable population of breeding pairs into Asturias, where the weather is favorable for breeding with summers similar to those in Nordic countries or Scotland. The project has already shown some signs of success, with some Osprey pairs sighted in the animal reserve, mainly near the river estuaries of Ribadesella.

Photo by: Ferran Pestaña