The Osprey, sometimes known as the “fish eagle” or “sea hawk”, is a diurnal fish-eating bird of prey. It is a larger raptor, reaching more than 24 inches in length and 71 inches across the wings.
The Osprey differs in several aspects from other diurnal birds of prey. The upper parts are a deep, glossy brown, while the breast is white and sometimes streaked with brown and the under parts are pure white. The head is white, with a dark mask across the eyes, reaching to the sides of the neck. The irises are golden to brown, and the transparent nictitating membrane is pale blue. The bill is black with a blue ‘cere’ ( soft swelling containing the nostrils at the base of the upper beak —- as in parrot) and the feet are white with black talons. Its toes are of equal length, its ‘tarsi’ (sing. tarsus) are reticulate (made or arranged like a net) and its talons are rounded rather than grooved. The Osprey and the owl are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with 2 toes in front and 2 behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish.
A short tail and long narrow wings with 4 long, finger-like feathers, and a shorter 5th, give it a very distinctive appearance. In “flight”, the Osprey has arched wings and drooping hands giving it a gull-like appearance. The call is a series of sharp whistles, described as ‘cheep, cheep’ or ‘yewk, yewk’. If disturbed by activity near the nest, the call is a frenzied ‘cheereek’.
Cultural Depictions : Nisos, a King of Megara, in Greek Mythology, became an Osprey, to attack his daughter after she fell in love with Minos, King of Crete. The Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, reported that parent Ospreys made their young fly up to the sun as a test, and dispatched any that failed.