Are Ospreys Endangered? (Threats, Numbers + FAQs)

Are Ospreys Endangered? (Threats, Numbers + FAQs)

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large fish-hunting hawk with an almost global distribution. These magnificent birds may be seen hunting along fresh and salt waterways on every continent except Antarctica. Like so many other species, these birds face a number of threats. But are they endangered?

Ospreys are no longer endangered. Their numbers are rising after the widespread ban on DDT use and the implementation of legal protection by conservation bodies. These magnificent birds are common in the US again. Their numbers are still low in the United Kingdom, but they are rising steadily.

The return of the Osprey is an inspiration and confirmation that threatened species can make a comeback in the modern world. These birds may be safe today, but their numbers told a very different story in the 20th century.

A combination of direct persecution and bioaccumulation of harmful pesticides caused a massive decline in their population, and they disappeared from part of their range for many decades.

This article unpacks the past and present status of the Osprey. Read along to learn about the threats they face and the challenges they have overcome.

Fortunately, Ospreys are no longer endangered, and their numbers are steadily rising across the majority of their range

Fortunately, Ospreys are no longer endangered, and their numbers are steadily rising across the majority of their range

Why were Ospreys endangered in the US?

American Osprey numbers declined rapidly in the mid-twentieth century due to widespread pesticide use, the worst of which was DDT. This chemical is toxic to birds if ingested, and it has a less direct but equally devastating impact on birds of prey.

The pesticides accumulated in their prey items and moved up through the food chain. High concentrations affected Osprey egg production resulting in thin-shelled, fragile eggs that cracked and broke when incubated.

Ospreys were not the only species affected by these chemicals. They also endangered iconic birds like Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles.

American Ospreys were not the only ones threatened. Continue reading to learn about their history in the United Kindom.

Osprey fishing for trout

Osprey fishing for trout

Why were Ospreys endangered in the UK?

Ospreys were wiped out in the UK, becoming locally extinct by the early 1900s. Direct persecution in the UK and Europe caused their demise. Hunters shot them for their skins, and their ornate eggs were taken by collectors.

Are any Osprey poplations endangered?

The Osprey population is considered healthy, so most of the world’s Ospreys are no longer endangered. However, they remain endangered in North Africa.

An Osprey perched on a rock ridge in the Sahara desert

An Osprey perched on a rock ridge in the Sahara desert

When did Ospreys become endangered?

Ospreys began to decline in the UK by the 1800s. They were extinct in England by the mid-1800s, although they persisted in Scotland until about 1916. It would be nearly 40 years before they returned to nest near Inverness in Scotland.

The population would not bounce back as the use of DDT continued to cause egg mortality. Progress was slow, but by the start of the millennium, Ospreys had returned to breed in England. However, their return was not without assistance.

The continued work of conservation groups and volunteers sees the population continue to strengthen into the 21st century.

Osprey soaring through the clear blue sky

Osprey soaring through the clear blue sky

What threats do Ospreys have?

Ospreys, like all birds, face a multitude of natural threats in their environment. However, direct and indirect human influences are the most significant risk to the species.

Read on to learn more about the threats they face.

Natural threats

  • Predation: Ospreys have relatively few predators. However, adults occasionally fall prey to other raptors like Great Horned Owls and Goshawks. Animals like raccoons will feed on their eggs.
  • Disease: Ospreys are susceptible to common bird illnesses like aspergillosis and avian cholera.
  • Extreme weather: Heatwaves, cold snaps, hail, hurricanes, and tornados are all examples of meteorological threats. These can kill adults but are especially dangerous to eggs and chicks.
Male Osprey perched on a branch with a recently caught fish

Male Osprey perched on a branch with a recently caught fish

How do humans affect Ospreys?

Humans affect Ospreys by disturbing them directly and damaging the natural ecosystems on which they rely. Overfishing reduces their natural food supply, and entanglement in nets and fishing lines also causes mortalities. Ospreys also collide with our buildings, powerlines, and other large structures like wind turbines.

DDT use was banned in the United States in 1972 and in Britain in 1986, although this harmful pesticide is still used in some countries today. Heavy metals like mercury in the environment also accumulate in these birds of prey and can be a major cause of egg mortality.

What is the biggest threat to Ospreys?

The biggest threat to Ospreys today is the degradation of their natural habitats. Environmental pollution from industry, forestry, and agriculture affects their ecosystems by altering their habitat, reducing their prey abundance, and poisoning the birds.

As apex predators in their environment, persistent chemicals accumulate in Ospreys, so even low levels of contaminants can become magnified in their tissues.

Natural habitat loss degradation is one of the biggest threats that Ospreys face

Natural habitat loss degradation is one of the biggest threats that Ospreys face

How can we help Ospreys?

Limiting pollution, development, and overfishing will be vital to the Osprey’s long-term survival. We can also help them by protecting them from disturbance while nesting and creating artificial nest platforms to encourage breeding.

Osprey populations have recovered well, and the global population continues to increase. The best way to help Ospreys and ensure their continued success is to protect their natural habitat.

These birds need healthy freshwater and marine environments with abundant fish stocks to survive.

How many Ospreys are left in the wild? (Osprey population)

Estimating the population size of such a widespread bird species is difficult, although there may be as many as 1.2 million individuals. This is an impressive increase since estimates of their population in the early 1980s suggested just 30,000 pairs or so.

In the United States, Osprey numbers have increased dramatically, and today there may be 400,000 adult birds. According to Birdlife International, there may be 9,600 to 13,600 breeding pairs in Europe, although estimates put the UK’s population at only 240 pairs or so.

There has been an impressive increase in the Osprey population, with a lot of credit due to successful conservation programmes

There has been an impressive increase in the Osprey population, with a lot of credit due to successful conservation programmes

How rare is it to see an Osprey?

Most Ospreys migrate, but they are a common sight in some areas in the spring and summer.

The largest concentration of breeding Ospreys visits the Chesapeake Bay area in the spring each year. American birdwatchers can even enjoy sightings of these majestic hawks throughout the year in places like Florida and southern California, which have mild winters.

Ospreys are uncommon in the UK, although their numbers are increasing. Birdwatchers have the best chance of spotting them by visiting known breeding sites in Scotland.

They can also be seen around their breeding sites in Llyn Brenig, North Wales, or at the Rutland Water Nature Reserve near Oakham.

Osprey perched on a tree stump

Osprey perched on a tree stump

What country has the most Ospreys?

The United States has the largest Osprey population, with an estimated 400,000 mature individuals. However, Ospreys are migratory across most of their wide distribution, so their numbers fluctuate through the seasons. Sweden has the largest Osprey population in Europe, with over 4,000 pairs.

Is it illegal to kill an Osprey?

It is illegal to disturb or kill an Osprey. They are protected by state and federal laws in the US, and it is also illegal to disturb them when breeding.

Why are Ospreys important?

A healthy Osprey population is a good indicator of healthy fish stocks and functioning aquatic and marine ecosystems. These birds are the only member of their genus and the sole surviving member of the Pandionidae family.

Few animals prey on Ospreys, but many other bird species use their sturdy nests, including other large birds of prey like Great Horned Owls that do not build their own nests.

Perched Osprey taking of for flight

Perched Osprey taking of for flight


Are Ospreys protected?

Ospreys are a protected species. They are protected by the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Wildlife & Countryside Act in the UK. Ospreys are globally protected from trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Are Ospreys endangered in Michigan?

Ospreys were once threatened across the United States, and their numbers plummeted sharply in the mid-1900s. They have recovered well after the ban on DDT use in 1972, and they were officially removed from Michigan's threatened species list in 2009.

Are Osprey endangered in Florida?

Ospreys are not endangered in Florida. The species was removed from the state’s threatened and endangered species list in 2018.

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