skip to content

Pandion haliaetus


  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Pandionidae
  • Polytypic 4 Subspecies

Authors: Poole, Alan F.

Pandion haliaetus

northern migrant (carolinensis). North of Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico; © Nick Athanas

The Osprey is a unique raptor that comprises an old lineage (the oldest fossils are from 10-15 mya) and thus is generally placed in its own family (Pandionidae). A fishing specialist, the Osprey is well adapted to its way of life. These birds dive from the air to capture fish near the water's surface. They then use their reversible outer toe to aid in gripping and reorienting a fish during the flight back to a favored feeding perch. The Osprey is cosmopolitan and, at high latitudes, is highly migratory. In the Neotropics, the pale-headed subspecies ridgwayi is resident in the Caribbean, largely in the Bahamas, on Cuba, and in Belize. Subspecies carolinensis, which has darker dorsal plumage, a more pronounced breast band, and a bolder dark eyeline, migrates from nesting grounds in North America to winter as far south as Chile and southern Brazil. In addition, significant nesting populations are found in coastal areas of nw. Mexico (Sonora and Baja), with these residents showing plumage characteristics in between these two subspecies.  All populations are found in areas with shallow water, both fresh and salt. Nesting is generally on islands or shorelines, with the large stick nest typically placed high in a large tree or (increasingly) on artificial structures such as power poles or buoys. 

Recommended Citation

Poole, Alan F.. 2009. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online:

This map is based on the maps available from the NatureServe InfoNatura website. The data for these maps are provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE.

  • Migration/Movement:Resident (nonmigratory)
  • Primary Habitat:Coastal waters
  • Foraging Strata:Water (surface)
  • Foraging Behavior:High dive
  • Diet:Fish
  • Sociality:Solitary
  • Mating System:Monogamy
  • Nest Form:Platform
  • Clutch: 2 - 4
  • IUCN Status:Least Concern