other raptors, Ospreys have strong hooked talons and beaks. But Ospreys
have additional unique adaptations. Their feet have two toes pointing backwards
(most birds only have at most one toe facing backwards), and the underside
of their feet are covered with especially rough, short spines to provide
a firm grip. Their feathers are also very oily for extra waterproofing as
they plunge into the water. However, this makes them buoyant, so they cannot
go deeper than 1m below the surface. Their nostrils can close as they dive
Fish Eagle/Hawk, Lang Siput/Tiram (Malay)
The Osprey is
a unique bird, the only member of its genus. It is believed that Ospreys
followed a different evolutionary path quite early on, so that they
are quite different from other raptors.
Ospreys usually forage on the wing, although some may perch-and-wait.
They often hover, but may also glide or circle to look for prey. Once
the prey is located, they dive, sometimes from a great height, entering
the water feet first. They may take off straightaway or lie on the
water and rest for a while. More rarely, they snatch prey by skimming
the water. To fly more smoothly after catching a fish, the bird will
re-arrange the fish in its talons so the fish faces head first, thus
presenting a more streamlined profile.
Ospreys eat mainly live fish. Although they are not above eating any
dead fish they come across, they are not scavengers. They occasionally
also take other small prey such as snakes, rodents, other aquatic
prey and even other birds.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Large (54-64cm); wings long narrow; tail
short dark faintly banded. White head, crest with eye-stripe
broad black; underparts white with breast band brownish;
upperparts dark brown; bill black; feet grey.
Females: Brown spots on the
chest like a necklace; larger, heavier.
Juvenile: Upperparts and
wings light brown edged with buff, breast band broader.
Call: Usually a quiet bird,
but may make loud piercing whistles tiong.
In flight: Narrow wings held
kinked at carpals giving a droopy appearance, when soaring
wings shallowly arched. Wing beats shallow and rapid.
From below: white underwing contrasting with black carpal
patch and flight feathers blackish; undertail has 5 black
bands, broadest at tip.
Status in Singapore: Common
winter visitor throughout, including North and South offshore
World distribution: Worldwide,
Classification: Family Accipitridae.
World 240 species, Singapore 27 species.
Ospreys usually hunt in the early morning or late afternoon perhaps because
the light is best for sighting underwater prey. They rarely hunt over open
sea, preferring to focus on calm shallow waters with trees or structures
to provide perches (trees, poles). Favourite haunts include estuaries, mangroves,
freshwater wetlands and man-made habitats such as reservoirs, rice fields,
irrigation canals. They avoid mountainous regions.
Ospreys are solitary creatures, hunting and even migrating alone. But where
fishing is good, several can coexist peacefully.
Breeding: Ospreys do not breed in our
part of the world. They generally pair for life. The male selects the nesting
site, which ideally should be located near a good source of food (3-5 km
from shallow water), free of predators (e.g., near or over water, on islands)
and surrounded by open area for easy take off and landing and easy sight
approaching of predators. Sites are usually tall dead trees with flat tops
or even man-made structures such as pylons and towers (3-18m off the ground);
sometimes also on cliffs. Some ospreys nest in colonies.
The male courts with aerial acrobatics and by presenting his mate with food
or nesting material, accompanied by a courtship call. The male will feed
the female even before she lays and often throughout the rest of the breeding
season, while the female stays in the nest to look after the young and fend
off predators. How well the male feeds the female determines the strength
of the pair bond.
The nest is a platform of coarse sticks, other bits and pieces. It is reused
every season. Both parents build or refurbish the nest. 2-4, usually 3,
creamy eggs with reddish-brown spots are laid. But there is sibling rivalry
among the young so it is rare for more than 1-2 offspring to survive. The
female does most of the incubation, which takes about 5-6 weeks, relying
on the male to feed her. Although both parents feed the young, the males
take the lead, often eating the head and tail only, leaving the more nutritious
parts of the fish for his mate and their young. The young fledge in about
6 weeks. Ospreys are able to breed at 3-5 years old and can live for 13-18
Migration: One population of Osprey
breeds in the north in a circle covering Russia, North America and Europe.
While those that breed far north migrate to the subtropics and tropics in
winter, others are resident in northern subtropical regions (e.g., Florida)
and breed in winter (December-January, the babies fledge in April-May).
Ospreys seen in Singapore are northern breeders; which arrive mainly in
October-March. Ospreys, however, can be seen year-round in Singapore. These
are probably immatures or non-breeders who stayed over. Another Osprey population
breeds in the south, in Australia and eastern Indonesia. These lack the
masks of the northern population and winter in the Philippines and possibly
Borneo. Ospreys migration in flocks of 8-10.
Status and threats: As a top predator,
Ospreys are considered a good indicator of the health of their environment.
Ospreys were widely hunted as a pest on game fishing and fish farms (in
reality, their catch is negligible; Ospreys can only eat about 300gm at
one sitting and will stop hunting once they have their fill). Hunting them
is now illegal in many parts of their distribution. Habitat destruction
also removes suitable nesting sites and prey. Pesticide poisoning of prey
(e.g., DDT) not only reduced the number of prey but also weakens their egg
shells and makes the eggs less permeable to oxygen and causes the eggs to
break as the parents incubate them. Efforts to conserve Ospreys include
building special nesting platforms for them.
Diversity Web: identification, habits (breeding, hunting), habitat,
Tremberth Natural History Paper: A natural history of the Osprey
Freshwater Biology 207 November 1, 1996: lots of details on identification,
habits (breeding, hunting), habitat, conservation issues.
of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands: identification, habits (hunting,
breeding), habitat, conservation efforts.
Dale Joyner Nature Preserve at Pelotes Island: identification, habits
(hunting, breeding), habitat, conservation efforts, photo and sounds.
Environments of Canada by University of Guelph: identification,
habits (hunting, breeding), habitat, conservation efforts, photo and
Hawk Conservancy: fact sheet, photos, call, links.
of Nova Scotia from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History: fact
sheet on features, breeding, migration; and lovely drawing.
of the Boreal Forest on borealforest.org: fact sheet with photo.
- A replica of the
James Audubon's Birds of America (1840-1844) On a website by creative
multimedia corp: fact sheet with full text, color plates, figures and
- Morten Strange,
"A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including
Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000
(p. 70: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
- David R Wells,
"The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)",
Academic Press, 1999 (p. 121-122: identification, distribution map,
habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
- Lim Kim Seng,
"Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore",
Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay
- Lim Kim Seng and
Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds
of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 71: identification,
status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
- G W H Davison
and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular
Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995
(p. 22: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
- Morten Strange
and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the
Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing,
1993 (p. 113: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
- Clive Briffett,
"A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science
Centre,1992 (p. 49,50: identification, habits, habitat).
- Christopher Hails,
"Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times
Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 58: habits, description, status in
Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
- G C Madoc, "An
Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947
(p. 64: description, habits, habitat).
- Sir John A S Bucknill
and E N Chasen, " Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia",
Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 103: field notes on habits).
- Dr. Harold G Cogger
(et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Raptors by Penny
Olsen, Weldon Owen, 1993 (p. 296: snippets).