Diving Osprey

Recently I was near Crystal Lake (Lassen County CA) where I followed an osprey nest this season. The osprey fledged in July, but I wanted to see if any osprey were still around. The nest was empty however, one osprey was sitting in the “sentinel” tree close to the nest.

I then went to nearby Baum Lake to see if any osprey (Pandion haliaetus) were still there. What luck! The osprey had not yet migrated to their wintering grounds. I was able to watch six osprey fish, several successfully.

Osprey can only dive  about three feet under the water. Therefore when hunting, osprey fly and circle high over shallow water. These sharp-sighted birds see fish from 30 to 130 feet above the water. Once a fish is sighted, the osprey often hovers briefly before diving feet first into the water with its eyes focused straight along its talons. Osprey will completely submerge during the dive. Closable nostrils keep water out of the nose. If the strike is successful, the osprey lines up the fish head first, an orientation that reduces air resistance,  before flying off on powerful wings. To hold the slippery fish, osprey have a reversible outer toe which allows the fish to be grasped with two toes in front and two toes behind. Barbed pads on the soles also aid the osprey in carrying its prey.

Research has shown the osprey average one successful catch in four dives, with some birds exhibiting a success rate of nearly 70%. On average it takes twelve minutes for an osprey to find and catch a fish. Pretty good!

These pictures were from several different dives within a few minutes of each other at Baum Lake. They are not great pictures because, as usual, I was too far away for my lens. I still look at them and marvel at the strength and beauty of this raptor.

Last spring I did a post showing an osprey eating a fish.

The next time I get back to Crystal and Baum Lakes the osprey will be gone – until next spring.

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2 Responses to Diving Osprey

  1. Mike Powell says:

    Wow, that’s a big fish. I’ve never seen an osprey and had no idea they caught fish that big.


    • gingkochris says:

      I too am amazed that an osprey can lift such a large fish out of the water. I read that the verified record for a fish lifted by an osprey was 2.5 pounds. That is a big fish!! The osprey in the picture were catching trout – I am not certain if they were rainbows, brooks or browns, as all three are in that lake and I was not close enough for a positive ID.


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