Bird Database


(Pandion haliaetus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Human disturbance, Pollution, Contaminants, Predation (Bald Eagles)

Conservation Actions

Minimize disturbance at nesting areas, avoid toxic chemicals


(Pandion haliaetus)

During the Breeding Bird Atlas in the early 1980s, the only known nesting Ospreys in New Hampshire were in the Lake Umbagog area. In 1989 the first modern nesting on Great Bay was documented, and since then the species hasn’t looked back. From being almost eradicated due to pesticides and persecution, Osprey populations across the Northeast have recovered dramatically, and New Hampshire now probably supports around 120 breeding pairs. These are scattered across the state wherever there are suitable wetlands with both plentiful fish populations and nearby nest sites. The latter historically were large dead trees, but Ospreys are an adaptable species and now also nest on telephone poles and cell towers. Along the coast they’ll even build their massive stick nests near the ground on things like old duck blinds or high spots in the salt marsh.

The Osprey’s colloquial name of “fish hawk” is apt, since this raptor consumes almost nothing but. They prefer to hunt over shallow water and generally by hovering high overhead. When prey is detected the Osprey dives down feet first, sometimes completely submerging, to grab it in its talons. In addition to the typical long claws of raptors, the Osprey also has pointed scales on the soles of its feet and a reversable outer toe, bit adaptations to keep a grip on slippery fish. If its plunge was successful, the bird will rise from the water, rearrange the fish so it faces forward (for better aerodynamics) and fly off to a perch to consume its meal (or take it to young in a nest).

Here in the Northeast the best fishing areas freeze in winter, and New England Ospreys are forced to migrate south. Many adults and young have been tagged in New Hampshire, revealing the diversity of strategies individuals may take in the non-breeding period. Experienced adults will make a beeline for their traditional wintering areas, which can be as far away as the Amazon. Young birds doing this for the first time can be inefficient travelers, and many die in their first year. One was even tracked to a ship crossing the Atlantic to Europe, where it remained several days before starving. On a more positive note, there are records of Ospreys hunting flying fish from ship’s rigging in the Pacific, but these were probably experienced adults.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count