Pandion haliaetus

Osprey. Photo: John Spiers

Ospreys are highly specialised fish-eaters with a reversible outer toe and spicules on the soles of their feet to hold slippery fish. They also have closable nostrils for diving, and a flexible ‘wrist’ (carpal joint) to allow powerful thrusts to pull the bird and its prey out of the water after a dive. Ospreys have a world-wide distribution, and occur along major river systems and the coast. In Australia, though, they are found mainly along the coast.

Ospreys are almost exclusively fish-eaters but occasionally they take other birds, crustaceans, reptiles and small mammals, and sometimes they extract molluscs from their shells. They forage mainly by patrolling offshore and diving onto prey, sometimes going a metre below the surface. The prey is carried in their talons to a prominent perch onshore, usually head-first to reduce drag.

Osprey. Photo: John Spiers


Breeding occurs from August to February in South Australia. The nest is a large platform of sticks lined with grasses and moss placed in the fork of a large tree, on stacks along rocky shores, and increasingly on man-made structures such as power poles and buildings. Between 1 to 4 eggs are laid at 1 to 7 day intervals. Nestlings are fed by the female with the male doing most of the provisioning.




The head, neck and underparts are white except for a mottled brown breast-band (‘necklace’) and a dark stripe through the eyes. Males and females are very much alike except that females are somewhat larger (about 20% by weight) and their necklace is darker than the males. The back, upper side of wings and tail are dark brown. The underwings and underside of the tail are barred with dark brown tips to the outer primaries and a black mark at each carpal joint. The cere is grey, the eyes yellow feet and legs pale grey. Juveniles are like adults but with light brown edges to the back and upperwing feathers. There is more streaking on the head and neck and the necklace is much heavier and broader than it is in adults.

Where to find it

Ospreys are uncommon in South Australia and classified as endangered. They are found along the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight to Ceduna, along the west coast and southern tip of Eyre Peninsula, the southern tip of the Yorke Peninsula and around the coast of Kangaroo Is land. They are absent from the gulfs, the Fleurieu Peninsula, the coast off the Coorong, and the coasts of the South-east.

The sub-species of the Osprey found in South Australia is the Eastern Osprey (P. h. cristatus).