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10 Facts About "Seahawks"

What is a seahawk anyway? Find out everything you need to know about the osprey, the raptor that is also known as the seahawk or fish hawk.

Jessica Pineda

Osprey with fish

Ospreys are excellent anglers. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they can have a 70-percent success rate when catching fish. On average, they spend 12 minutes hunting before they catch a fish.

So, what’s a seahawk? That’s one of the names of the osprey (Pandion haliaetus), also known as the fish hawk. Discover 10 things you may not have known about ospreys.

1) As their nicknames suggest, ospreys are the only raptors that have diets that are around 99-percent fish-based. They are great anglers, and have no problem diving into shallow water to go after their prey.

2) They live around 15 to 20 years, with the oldest osprey clocking in at 25 years old.

3) Ospreys can be found all over the world except Antarctica, cruising along rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes and other areas of open water as they hunt for fish.

4) The Cornell Lab of Ornithlogy describes ospreys as "long and lanky.” They are around 21.3 to 22.8 inches in length, with a wingspan of 59.1 to 70.9 inches.

5) Ospreys generally tend to be a dark brown color on top, and white below. Some variations in color vary from males to females to juveniles, but females tend to have a scattering of brown around their neckline. Juveniles can have it too, but they are more easily identified as younger birds with their orange eyes (compared to the yellow of the adults) and the scale-like pattern on their wings.

6) Another way to easily identify ospreys in the air is the M-shape of their wings, due to what Cornell calls their "wrist kink.”

7) According to "The Birder’s Handbook” by Paul Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin and Darryl Wheye, "the fish-eating Osprey also has spines on the pads on the soles of its toes for holding on to slippery fishes.” Their feet are also unique too. According to the authors, ospreys are the "only raptor whose front talons turn backward.”

8) According to "The Birder’s Handbook” the name osprey "derives from the Latin ossifraga, meaning "bone breaker”; the name got transferred from the Lammergeier, an Old World vulture that drops bone from heights so it can eat marrow from the shattered fragments.”

9) The use of pesticide DDT had a detrimental affect on ospreys that, along with loss of their breeding habitat and hunting, caused the population to crash from the 1950s to the 1970s.

10) Nesting platforms have helped save the osprey population, and they are considered a conservation success. While they are still endangered in certain parts of the United States, their numbers are growing again. They are listed as "least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Watch ospreys in action in this video from Arkive:

Special thanks to Amy K. Hooper for all her help with this article.

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Posted: January 30, 2014, 1:30 p.m. PDT

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10 Facts About "Seahawks"

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Reader Comments
thanks for the good info and neat film.
Arlene, Verona, PA
Posted: 2/26/2014 7:23:49 PM
I never knew this information. Thanks
Terry, Houston, TX
Posted: 2/1/2014 10:19:21 AM
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