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What world raptor can turn its front talons backward?

The Osprey is the only raptor whose front talons turn backward.


The Osprey - Pandion haliaetus – also known as the sea hawk, fish eagle or fish hawk, is a fish eating bird of prey. It is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the Peregrine Falcon. They occur in a wide variety of habitats such as lakes, rivers, wooded swamps with open water, and shorelines, from cliffs to salt-flats.  In Africa it is partly resident in the tropics but is a non-breeding visitor pretty much everywhere else, including southern Africa.


The plumage of the osprey is generally brown above and white below, with a whitish head and a dark stripe through each eye. The wings are long and pointed and the legs are stout and heavily scaled. The irises of the eyes are golden to brown, and the transparent nictitating membrane is pale blue. The bill is black, with a blue cere, and the feet are white with black talons. A short tail and long, narrow wings which in flight are arched with drooping "hands", giving it a gull-like appearance. The juvenile is fairly similar to the adult but the head is more darkly-streaked and the upperparts appear scaled with cream and pale rufous.


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!


Fish make up 99% of the Osprey's diet. They occasionally, may prey on rodents, rabbits, hares, amphibians and other birds. These raptors are particularly well adapted to this diet, with reversible outer toes, sharp spicules on the underside of the toes, closable nostrils to keep out water during dives, and backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch.


The Osprey breeds near freshwater lakes, and sometimes on coastal brackish waters. The large stick nest is built near the ground or high up in a tree, or on a cliff, rocky outcrop, telephone pole, dilapidated building, or even just on the ground. The clutch size is usually around two to four eggs, which are incubated largely by the female over 35 to 38 days. Once hatched, the female broods and feeds the chicks, whilst the male forages for food to bring back to the nest. The young fledge at around a month and a half to two months old, but remain dependent on the parents birds for another two to three months, after which they disperse widely.

Conservation Status – Least Concern

The osprey was widely persecuted by humans, particularly in Europe, whilst during the 1950s and 1960s there were dramatic declines due to pesticide pollution, especially in North America. Fortunately, the osprey still has a massive global population which now appears to be increasing again in many regions. The recovery of osprey populations in Europe and North America has been attributed to protection measures, public education, the creation of artificial nest sites, and bans on pesticide usage. Its conservation status in southern Africa is uncertain, but it is not understood why it is so uncommon in the region.


Ask Aves Birding Tours/Safaris/Adventures to create a tour for you or book on one of the following Aves Birding Tour/Safaris/Adventures scheduled tours to see these magnificent raptors: -

Aves Eastern Cape Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.

Aves Highlands / Tembe Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves KZN Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North East Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North West Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves Western Cape Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves West Coast Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.


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