Pandion haliaetus

Infrequently Seen

Spring: Ospreys nest in the Washington metro area, but not at Monticello Park. A few spend the winter in the area, but most Ospreys seen in the spring have arrived from their southern wintering grounds.

Fall: Ospreys are rarely seen during the fall at Monticello.

Where to See Them in the Park

Osprey Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

The primary food of Ospreys is fish, so you are more likely to see them around the Potomac River. On a few occasions, an Osprey has landed in a bare tree in the park to eat a fish it has caught.

Physical Description

Osprey Male
Female - Photo by William Higgins

Ospreys are large raptors with a white belly, dark wings, and white wing linings. The front edge of the wing has a dark patch. When the bird is in the air, each wing looks as if a bite has been taken out of it. The sexes have similar plumage, but most females have a dark necklace.

Osprey Male
Male - Photo by William Higgins

Male Ospreys usually have either no necklace or a faint one.

Osprey Male
Bald Eagle Harassing Osprey - Photo by William Higgins

Bald Eagles often harass Ospreys and try to steal fish. This practice is known as kleptoparasitism, which involves stealing food from another creature. Bald Eagles are about 50 percent larger than Ospreys, and many Ospreys lose their fish. However, Ospreys have limits to how much harassment they will tolerate. In 2021, Carol Jean Stalun photographed an Osprey killing a Fish Crow on the Potomac River. This is thought to be the first photographically-documented case of an Osprey killing another bird.


Ospreys sound more like songbirds than raptors. Their call is usually a series of chirps, and sometimes they whistle.

Hear the calls of the Osprey.


Ospreys have a worldwide distribution and are found on all continents except Antarctica. The best place to see a local Osprey nest is at the Belle Haven Marina. In the marina and many other places along the Potomac, people have put up platforms on which Ospreys can build their large stick nests. During the spring and summer, you can view the Belle Haven Ospreys at their nest at eye level and from close range. You can learn more about the Belle Haven Ospreys at the following links: Osprey Love Nest and Osprey Love Nest 2.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Osprey means bone-breaker. The species was confused with a species of European vulture who breaks bones.
Genus Name: Pandion was a king of Athens in Greek mythology. The myth involving Pandion has no connection with fishing raptors, but the name might have been given because of the Osprey's seeming nobility.
Species Name: Haliaetus means sea eagle.

Osprey video footage

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