The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as the sea hawk, fish eagle, or fish hawk, is a fish-eating bird of prey.
The osprey is unique among North American birds of prey for its diet of live fish and ability to dive into water to catch them.
Because of its unique behaviors, it has been given its own taxonomic genus, Pandion and family, Pandionidae. The name Pandion comes from the mythical Greek king Pandion of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, who was transformed into an eagle.
The osprey is unusual in that it is a distributed nearly worldwide. Four subspecies are usually recognized and two extinct species are known from the fossil record one in California and one in Florida. The osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the Peregrine Falcon.
Ospreys commonly patrol waterways and shorelines. In our area, they are often seen on bridges and abandoned watercraft or standing on their huge stick nests riverside cypress. Ospreys are compatible humans and have rebounded in numbers following the ban on the pesticide DDT.
In fact, human structures sometimes aid to the osprey. The birds happily nest on telephone poles, channel markers, and other such locations. Artificial nesting platforms are common in areas where preservationists are working to reestablish the birds
The osprey’s diet consists almost exclusively of fish. Ospreys and owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp prey like slippery fish with two toes in front and two behind. Ospreys search for fish by circling high in the sky over shallow water. They often hover briefly before diving to grab a fish.
Ospreys are considered a type of eagle in many Native American tribes, and are accorded the same respect bald and golden eagles are. In coastal tribes where ospreys are common, they are often considered guardians. Seeing one is sometimes considered a warning of danger to come.
In other legends, Fish-Hawk is noted for his pride or even arrogance. The Nez Perce considered Fish-Hawk a medicine bird, and seeing an osprey in a dream or vision was a sign that a man had been granted spiritual power as a healer.