Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Ron Stewart
Photo Copyright Ron Stewart

The osprey, Pandion haliaetus, is one of the very few (perhaps half a dozen) species, among the more than 9,000 living or recently extinct species of birds, that is nearly cosmopolitan, occurring on all continents except Antarctica. In Utah, it is a rare summer resident at mountain lakes and along the Green River, and a rare migrant throughout the state. It is much less common in Utah now than it formerly was, and nesting of this species in Utah is now geographically much reduced, being limited mainly to the margins of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The habitat of this species is aquatic sites: rivers, lakes, and ocean coasts. Its foods are mostly fishes, but it also consumes some other vertebrates, as well as occasional crustaceans.

The nest is usually ten to sixty feet above the ground in a tree, near or over water, or on a cliff. It may be reused year after year, often becoming quite large. The two to four eggs, typically three, are incubated by both parents, but mainly by the female, for 32 to 43 days. The nestlings, tended by both parents, fledge after 48 to 59 days.

This species is unique among diurnal raptors in being zygodactylous (that is, two toes forward and two backward on each foot), a condition seen in parrots, woodpeckers, and roadrunners. The feet are also unusual in that they have very rough, almost spine-like, projections on the gripping surfaces. In the osprey, these adaptations are used for capturing and gripping fishes.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Peterson, R. T., and V. M. Peterson. 1990. A field guide to western birds, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 432 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., E. D. Sorensen, and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. vi + 108 pp.