Located on an osprey platform at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, our live Osprey Cam has captured spectacular
images of a breeding pair of ospreys or "fish hawks" as they are commonly called (visit our Osprey Cam technical page
to see photos of the camera installation).
General description: An osprey is a large bird with a length
of 22-25 inches, a wingspan of 4.5-6 feet, and a weight of approximately 4 pounds. The osprey has a dark brown back and a white belly, as well as a white head, which features
a dark stripe running from its yellow eyes to the back of its head. Female ospreys are slightly larger than males and may sport a dark speckled necklace. Ospreys are seen in the
Chesapeake Bay area from spring through fall, but are rare in the winter. North American ospreys
winter in Florida, the Caribbean, on the Gulf Coast, and in South America.
Eating behavior: The osprey dines almost exclusively on live fish, often catching its meals by hovering over the water at an altitude of 50 to 200 feet, then diving feetfirst into the water to catch its prey. The osprey's feet are uniquely adapted to "air fishing." Each osprey foot has
a reversible front toe, as well as barbs (called spicules), which help it hold
onto a slippery fish in flight. Normally, an osprey will aerodynamically position a fish headfirst in its talons before it returns to the nest.
Nesting behavior: Like bald eagles, ospreys often reuse old nests, adding new material to them each season. Ospreys prefer nests near water,
especially in large trees, but will also nest on artificial platforms. Ospreys three years or older
usually mate for life, and their spring courtship begins a five-month period when they raise their
By around the end of April, the female osprey usually lays two to four eggs, one to three days apart, each about the size of a large
chicken egg with coloring of white to light brown splashed with varying shades of
red, brown, and gray blotches. The eggs will hatch in the same sequence as
they were laid, in about four to five weeks time. The female will stay on the nest the majority of the time,
with the male giving her an occasional break when she
leaves to hunt for food. Within thirty days of hatching the young birds will be 70-75% of their adult weight.
The chicks will fledge about fifty-five days after hatching but will
use the nest as home base until they migrate in September. Young ospreys will stay dependent on their
parents until the young are able to fish for themselves.
The female adult usually migrates first, while the male adult remains behind to help the young
with meals. The male will migrate about the same time as the young, which is a few
weeks after the mother, depending on the chicks' development.
Threats: Like many birds of prey, the osprey suffered during the 60s and 70s due
to the rampant use of DDT and other dangerous pesticides. Research done at Maryland's Patuxent Research Refuge
was used in Rachel Carson's classic "Silent Spring," and alerted citizens, scientists, and
politicians to the fact that DDT was harming bird populations. Patuxent scientists discovered
that DDT was working its way up the food chain and thinning the eggshells of raptors.
Fortunately, DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, and thanks to the hard work of many dedicated people, birds of prey are beginning to rebound.
Other interesting osprey facts from Alan Poole's "Ospreys: A Natural and
Unnatural History" (Cambridge University Press, 1989):
- ospreys generally pair for life, but if mating is unsuccessful, will sometimes "divorce"
- a female osprey will choose her mating partner based on the quality and location of the male's nest
- osprey nests have been known to contain hula hoops, rag dolls, and toy boats
- osprey parents will sometimes hold back food in order to encourage fledglings to leave the nest
- osprey fledglings will sometimes move to nearby nests where they are fed by other parents
Visit our Osprey Quiz
to learn more about ospreys
Visit our Store
for osprey merchandise
Visit other osprey websites on the Net:
Note: The Friends of Blackwater would like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts and support
of those who have partnered with us and have contributed generously to the
Osprey Cam project. Without their contributions of time, materials, expertise and
funding, bringing you the Osprey Cam would not have been possible.
Choptank Electric Cooperative, AAccurate Tree Service, and WildCam.com have
provided help and expertise to get the images on our website. We also thank the Refuge staff, who provided
expertise and assistance
with each step of the installation.
And a final thank you to all our cam watchers, who inspired us with their enthusiasm
and who enriched the project with their photos and observations.