Osprey – The World’s Cosmopolitan Raptor

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is the world’s most widespread, cosmopolitan raptor, breeding or migrating on every continent except Antarctica. This distribution makes the osprey an excellent photography subject, no matter where you are.

This bird’s long, boldly-marked wings with splayed “fingers” are easy to identify in flight. Because these raptors frequently hover as they search for prey, their slower motion can also be easier to photograph for sharp clarity that shows the bird’s awesome intensity and drama.

In autumn, female ospreys migrate early, followed by males, then lastly, by young ospreys starting their first migration. Because of their inexperience, juvenile ospreys tend to wander more and may backtrack or follow otherwise meandering routes, so they can be unpredictable to find. Adult ospreys migrate along more direct routes and can be expected at popular birding hotspots and top photography locations on a regular basis.

During spring migration, males migrate earlier than females in order to secure their territories and attract mates as they arrive. In areas where ospreys are seen year-round, the birds can be somewhat nomadic to find the best food sources, but will nearly always be found near fish-rich waterways and reservoirs.

Photographing ospreys on the hunt is both challenging and rewarding. These birds dive feet-first to snatch fish with their thick talons, and capturing the moment of that dive as the bird is about to pierce the water can be phenomenal. Faster shutter speeds will help ensure good focus, and it is best to try and have both the bird’s brilliant yellow eyes as well as its dark, curved talons in focus for the best drama. It can take awhile to get that shot just right, but it is well worth the practice and patience.

Ospreys often perch nearby after a successful hunt, tearing into their prey. Even without a fish, these birds perch on snags and overhangs near good fishing spots, as well as on poles and other convenient perches in their hunting zone. This provides a range of great opportunities for photographing ospreys’ fierce expressions. Don’t miss the take off shots either, when ospreys crook their wings and launch themselves into flight with purposeful, dramatic moves.

Wherever and whenever you see an osprey, there’s no wrong time for a stunning photo!

Text adapted in part from Migration: Exploring the Remarkable Journeys of Birds; used with permission.