Nominate osprey subspecies from Nagarhole National Park
Scientific classification
P. haliaetus
Binomial name
Pandion haliaetus
Wiki-Pandion haliaetus.png
Global range of Pandion haliaetus

Falco haliaetus Linnaeus, 1758

The osprey or more specifically the western osprey (Pandion haliaetus) — also called sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk — is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey with a cosmopolitan range. It is a large raptor, reaching more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and 180 cm (71 in) across the wings. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts.

The osprey tolerates a wide variety of habitats, nesting in any location near a body of water providing an adequate food supply. It is found on all continents except Antarctica, although in South America it occurs only as a non-breeding migrant.

As its other common names suggest, the osprey's diet consists almost exclusively of fish. It possesses specialised physical characteristics and exhibits unique behaviour to assist in hunting and catching prey. As a result of these unique characteristics, it has been given its own taxonomic genus, Pandion and family, Pandionidae. Three subspecies are usually recognized; one of the former subspecies, cristatus, has recently been given full species status and is referred to as the eastern osprey.

Taxonomy and systematics

The osprey was one of the many species described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae, and named as Falco haliaeetus.[2] The genus, Pandion, is the sole member of the family Pandionidae, and used to contain only one species, the osprey (P. haliaetus). The genus Pandion was described by the French zoologist Marie Jules César Savigny in 1809.[3][4]

Most taxonomic authorities consider the species cosmopolitan and conspecific. A few authorities split the osprey into two species, the western osprey and the eastern osprey.

The osprey differs in several respects from other diurnal birds of prey. Its toes are of equal length, its tarsi are reticulate, and its talons are rounded, rather than grooved. The osprey and owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish.[5] It has always presented something of a riddle to taxonomists, but here it is treated as the sole living member of the family Pandionidae, and the family listed in its traditional place as part of the order Falconiformes.

Other schemes place it alongside the hawks and eagles in the family Accipitridae—which itself can be regarded as making up the bulk of the order Accipitriformes or else be lumped with the Falconidae into Falconiformes. The Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy has placed it together with the other diurnal raptors in a greatly enlarged Ciconiiformes, but this results in an unnatural paraphyletic classification.[6]


American subspecies
Australasian subspecies is the most distinctive
Californian bird with scraps of fish on its beak

The osprey is unusual in that it is a single living species that occurs nearly worldwide. Even the few subspecies are not unequivocally separable. There are four generally recognised subspecies, although differences are small, and ITIS lists only the first two.[3]

Fossil record

To date there have been two extinct species named from the fossil record.[11] Pandion homalopteron was named by Stuart L. Warter in 1976 from fossils of Middle Miocene, Barstovian age, found in marine deposits in the southern part of California. The second named species Pandion lovensis, was described in 1985 by Jonathan J. Becker from fossils found in Florida and dating to the latest Clarendonian and possibly representing a separate lineage from that of P. homalopteron and P. haliaetus. A number of claw fossils have been recovered from Pliocene and Pleistocene sediments in Florida and South Carolina.

The oldest recognized family Pandionidae fossils have been recovered from the Oligocene age Jebel Qatrani Formation, of Faiyum, Egypt. However they are not complete enough to assign to a specific genus.[12] Another Pandionidae claw fossil was recovered from Early Oligocene deposits in the Mainz basin, Germany, and was described in 2006 by Gerald Mayr.[13]


The genus name Pandion derives from the mythical Greek king of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, Pandion II. Although Pandion II was not used to name a bird of prey, Nisus, a king of Megara, was used for the genus.[14] The species name haliaetus comes from Ancient Greek haliaietos ἁλιάετος[15] from hali- ἁλι-, "sea-" and aetos άετος, "eagle".[14]

The origins of osprey are obscure;[16] the word itself was first recorded around 1460, derived via the Anglo-French ospriet and the Medieval Latin avis prede "bird of prey," from the Latin avis praedæ though the Oxford English Dictionary notes a connection with the Latin ossifraga or "bone breaker" of Pliny the Elder.[17][18] However, this term referred to the Lämmergeier.[19]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Visvalk
العربية: عقاب نساري
azərbaycanca: Çay qaraquşu
বাংলা: মাছমুরাল
башҡортса: Кәлмәргән
беларуская: Скапа
български: Орел рибар
brezhoneg: Erer-spluj
Чӑвашла: Пулă хурчки
corsu: Alpana
dansk: Fiskeørn
davvisámegiella: Čiekčá
Deutsch: Fischadler
eesti: Kalakotkas
Ελληνικά: Ψαραετός
Esperanto: Fiŝaglo
føroyskt: Fiskiørn
Frysk: Fiskearn
Gaeilge: Coirneach
ગુજરાતી: માછીમાર
한국어: 물수리
հայերեն: Ջրարծիվ
hrvatski: Bukoč
Bahasa Indonesia: Elang tiram
interlingua: Pandion haliaetus
íslenska: Gjóður
עברית: שלך
ქართული: შაკი
Kiswahili: Koho
Кыргызча: Балыкчы кушу
кырык мары: Сексӹ
latviešu: Zivjērglis
magyar: Halászsas
македонски: Орел-рибар
मराठी: कैकर
Bahasa Melayu: Burung Helang Tiram
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဝန်လက်
Nāhuatl: Acuauhtli
Nederlands: Visarend
नेपाली: मलाहा चील
日本語: ミサゴ
Nordfriisk: Faskiarn
norsk: Fiskeørn
norsk nynorsk: Fiskeørn
پنجابی: آسپرے
Piemontèis: Pandion haliaëtus
português: Pandion haliaetus
română: Uligan pescar
русиньскый: Скоб
русский: Скопа
саха тыла: Умсан
Scots: Fish-hawk
Simple English: Osprey
slovenčina: Kršiak rybár
slovenščina: Ribji orel
српски / srpski: Орао рибар
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Orao ribar
suomi: Sääksi
svenska: Fiskgjuse
Tagalog: Osprey
татарча/tatarça: Балыкчы карчыга
Türkçe: Balık kartalı
українська: Скопа
Tiếng Việt: Ó cá
粵語: 魚鷹