Body, dark brown above and white below. Head, white except for a brown stripe from the eye to the back of the head. The tail has medium-sized, alternating, dark brown and white bands. The female Osprey had a ring of brown spots around her neck. 56-64 cm (22-25 in) length; 147-183 cm (58-72 in) wingspan. While in flight, large dark patches at the birds' "wrist" and crooked wings help distinguish this bird from others.
The breeding season begins in November and extends through early July. Ospreys sometimes nest in close proximity to one another if food is plentiful. The large bulky nest is built by both the male and female, and is approximately 3-18 m (10-60 feet) above the ground. Branches, sticks, twigs, and many unlikely materials such as rope, bones, conch shells, nylon webbing, and other debris, are used in the nest. The nest is built in large snags, conifers, cliffs, rocky outcrops, and on artificial nesting platforms. The female lays 3 eggs. With some help from the male, she incubates these for approximately 33 days. The male feeds the female while she is on the nest. The young are semi-altricial. For about 40 days, the female remains near the nest, tending to the young and feeding them. The male brings food to the female during this time as well, which she feeds to the young. The adults care for the young for 48-59 days.
The Osprey is rarely seen far from water, except during migration. It eats primarily fish, with occasional snakes, amphibians, and some smaller vertebrates. It usually flies over the water searching for prey. When the prey is located, it dives and strikes it with its talons. If hunting habitat is available, an Osprey can be somewhat adaptable in choosing a nesting site. It traditionally nests on coastal islands, but can now be seen nesting inland on natural or man-made structures such as telephone poles, duck blinds, and marker buoys.
In the United States during the breeding season, the Osprey occurs in the southeastern and western coastal areas, the northern states, and the Northwest. Some Ospreys migrate to winter in Central and South America, while others spend their winters in Florida and southern California. The Osprey stays all year in southern Florida.
The Osprey is listed as Endangered in Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Alabama. Osprey populations were declining rapidly in the mid-1900's, most likely due to the use of DDT and other pesticides. The accumulation of pesticides caused reproductive failures. With the banning of DDT and conservation programs (particularly, creating nesting platforms) for this species, Osprey populations are starting to increase.
While in flight the Osprey could be mistaken for a gull. The Osprey's wings are broader, and the wing tips are not as pointed as a gull's. When lighting is poor and the bird is at a distance, the Osprey may be mistaken for a Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle has broad wings that are held on a horizontal plane while the bird is soaring, and it is much larger than the Osprey.