The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a well-known bird of prey that lives and hunts around freshwater bodies and coastal areas in many parts of the United States. These widespread raptors also live in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Ospreys are specialist fish hunters, which is why they are often called fish hawks.
Many bird watchers will have seen these raptors flying slowly over lakes and rivers or even enjoyed watching them on screen through a nest camera. It can be difficult to judge their true size at a distance, however, so just how big are Ospreys?
Ospreys are medium to large birds of prey. They have a total body length of nearly two feet, a wingspan of up to six feet, and a mass of over four pounds. Ospreys are not quite as large as eagles, but larger than most UK and North American hawks. These powerful raptors can use their strength to capture fish that weigh over two pounds and carry them back to a perch or their nest.
Ospreys have long, narrow wings, and long legs for reaching into the water to grasp their prey.
Osprey are medium to large sized birds of prey
The Osprey’s large size, distinctive colors, and specific habitat preference make it a pretty easy bird to identify. When seen around the nest, the size difference between the sexes can also make it possible to tell the male from the female.
Ospreys can be confused with some other American birds of prey like Bald Eagles and Red-tailed hawks, however, especially when seen from a long distance.
This article covers the size of the Osprey, one of America’s most distinctive birds. Read along to learn how these birds compare with humans and how they stack up to some other notable birds of prey.
Osprey carrying off a fish, Florida
Ospreys have an impressive wingspan of 59 - 71 inches (150 - 180 cm). Their long, narrow wings are bent at the wrist, creating a distinctive ‘M’ shape when viewed from below. Female Ospreys have slightly longer (up to 10%) wingspans than males, although the difference is not as marked as their weights.
Keep reading to find out how much these fish-hunting hawks weigh.
Osprey wingspans can reach up to 180cm (71 inches)
It will probably come as a surprise to learn that Ospreys weigh just a few pounds. Their wingspan is as long as the average human is tall, but like most birds, Ospreys are built light and have hollow bones. Being light has obvious advantages for an animal that spends so much time in the air.
Most populations of Osprey are migratory, and some even fly over 4000 miles between their summer breeding areas and overwintering grounds.
Long-distance flight isn’t the only reason for their long wings and low body mass. Ospreys hunt by plunging into the water and grasping fish with their powerful talons and grippy feet. Once caught, the real challenge begins when the Osprey has to lift itself (and its struggling prey) out of the water!
Continue reading to learn how much Ospreys weigh.
Interestingly, female Ospreys usually weigh 15 - 20 percent more than their male counterparts. This surprising size difference is typical in birds of prey, although the benefits are not yet fully understood. The size difference between male and female Ospreys is not limited to their wingspans and weights. Female Ospreys also have broader wings, longer tails, and larger heads and feet.
Female Ospreys are up to 20% bigger than males
When perched, Ospreys are comparable in length to a newborn baby, although they weigh only about half as much. When an Osprey opens up its long, narrow wings, its full size becomes apparent. Their wingspan measures an impressive five to six feet from wing tip to wing tip - the average height range of adult human beings.
The largest Ospreys breed in the high latitudes, far north of the equator. Of the four recognized subspecies, Pandion haliaetus carolinensis is the largest. These are the migratory Ospreys commonly seen in North America, and the heaviest individuals are said to weigh over 4.5 pounds (2.1kg).
The Pandion haliaetus carolinensis American subspecies are generally the largest Ospreys
Ospreys can catch fish up to about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) in weight, although the usual maximum size of their prey is about 2.25 pounds (1 kg). These expert hunters are known to overestimate their lifting ability from time to time.
Fish that are too heavy to carry might have to be pulled back to shore, which is not a particularly graceful sight.
Ospreys are ideally suited for their environment and their niche in the global ecosystem. They are among the world’s most widespread raptors (alongside the Peregrine Falcon and Barn Owl).
Osprey remains have been identified from the fossil record dating back as far as 13 million years. Their large size and unique hunting strategy have certainly contributed to their success!
The large size of the Osprey is ideal for preying on mullet and other surface schooling fish, sometimes weighing over two pounds. The Osprey's wingspan can measure about three times its total body length. These impressive wings are perfect for getting the bird airborne with its heavy prey after diving into the water.
The sheer size of an Osprey comes in handy whilst fishing
Ospreys are large birds by all accounts. Their five to six-foot wingspan is particularly impressive, although these birds have nothing on the incredible eleven-foot wingspan of the Wandering Albatross! But how do Ospreys compare with other American Birds of prey?
Ospreys are occasionally confused with Bald and Golden Eagles. They are about half the mass of these large raptors, although their wingspan is just a foot or so shorter. Ospreys can also be confused with another well-known American bird of prey, the Red-tailed Hawk. Ospreys are significantly heavier than these hawks and have longer, narrower wings.
An Osprey perched on a branch with spread wings
Ospreys might be big birds, but they are far too small to lift a human. In fact, an adult Osprey can carry just a few pounds.
The Osprey diet consists of about 99% fish, so they are not likely to capture a dog. Even if they tried, these birds would be too small to lift anything but a young puppy.
Both North American eagle species are much larger than Ospreys. Not all eagles are as impressive as Bald and Golden Eagles, however. Some species, like the Pygmy Eagle of New Guinea, are much smaller than the Osprey.
Ospreys are very similar in size to the Turkey Vulture and Black Vulture. The Buzzard of Europe, Asia, and Africa is considerably smaller than the average Osprey.
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