The dexterity of the osprey

There’s no catch-and-release with this bird, the osprey or “sea eagle” (Pandion haliaetus). This video shows its amazing fishing skills. I was surprised to see they can fly after they’ve been completely immersed, even toting a large fish.  And when the talons come down right before the strike, it reminds me of the wheels of an airplane swiveling down just before touchdown.

I suppose it makes me “spiritual” to contemplate that creatures this skilled, this magnificent, evolved from simple chemicals beginning about 3.5 billion years ago. Feathers, beak, behavior: the whole megillah. Where’s my atheist church?

h/t: Diane G.


  1. devilsfan
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Am I just crazy or did that osprey catch a fish in each talon in the first kill

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      I think there were a pile in each talon.

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    The gravel beach shot at about 20 seconds in reminded me of where I was when I first saw an osprey, around 100 miles outside their known UK range at the time. They’re present, if uncommon, all over Scotland now.
    The final shot shows the results of the osprey’s struggling with the fish in the preceding shots ; eventually they get talons in fore and aft on the fish, to line it up for a stream-lined flight back to the chicks. But for a time it looked as if that was going to be “the one that got away”!

  3. Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    amazing – particularly that last. That was a very big fish!

  4. HaggisForBrains
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Wonderful photography! I thought the first one had caught several in one fell swoop. The last one was really cool, holding that salmon(?) in one talon, even though it was almost as big as the osprey.

    BTW where I come from ospreys and sea eagles are two quite distinct birds.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    It is impressive how far forward birds of prey stretch their legs. Imagine doing that yourself! At one point, the osprey hits the water bum first, the legs are so outstretched.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Well, I can’t do it myself, but I have friends who can.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        Ha ha I was a ballerina from the age of 5-14. My body is wrecked now but when you do that stuff when you are growing, in changes your flexibility and the way you are put together for life – mostly in good ways if you are trained well….I wasn’t.

  6. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Excellent. I like that there’s no grandious dramatic music score in this clip. It gives it a very serene feeling, even though the fish might disagree.

    • Taz
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      I agree. It drives me crazy when a video (especially a nature video) has sound but they still insist on putting in a music track.
      Note to video makers: your choice of music is not as creative as you think it is.

      • Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Sadly, I bet this soundtrack is fake and dubbed in studio. There are often whole units of sound-makers in these studios to liven up the imagery. People sitting around making splashing noises and flapping noises….I agree that it beats music, but knowing that it is fake ruins it. I prefer silence to fakery.

        • Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

          That said, I loved the video!!! The osprey shaking the water off in flight was amazing!!!!

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 3, 2013 at 1:07 am | Permalink

          Well, the video was also ‘faked’ in that each sequence must have been a compilation of several shots cut together. I doubt they had all those different camera views of the one incident where it picked up the flatfish. ‘Faked’ isn’t the word I’d use though, ‘edited’ is. And I can’t see any difference between that and putting in sound (some of which may have been studio generated, some of which may have been extracted from the live footage).

          • Posted August 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

            I am puzzled that you don’t see a difference between editing real video segments and making stuff up. The sounds do not convey any real information about the subject at hand, since they were (probably) made by people who were not even there during the filming.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 4, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

              I think you’re making a distinction that doesn’t exist. The video segments are almost certainly a compilation of different shots, taken at different times (and probably selected from a huge collection of less succesful ‘takes’) and spliced together to make a coherent story. The soundtrack adds to the overall viewing experience in my view. Would you be happier if it was guaranteed assembled from tracks recorded ‘in the field’?

              • Posted August 8, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Yes, much. The sound is FAKE. That is not the same as editing clips of real video. I wouldn’t mind edited clips of real osprey sounds.

                I once saw a magnificent, intimate documentary on the Bateleur Eagle. I was particularly impressed by the sounds. It felt like I was there. The sounds of the wings were especially wonderful. Then I found out it was faked and added in a studio, probably by people who had never heard a Bateleur wing-whisper. I was shattered. Since then, I have found that many birds have distinctive wing sounds. I would want to know that. I would want to hear that sound in the video, not a fake sound invented in a studio. It is as if someone who had never seen an osprey had painted a video of this bird, frame by frame, based on what he or she thought an osprey should look like. Wouldn’t you be upset and disillusioned if this video were presented as if it were a real osprey? Wouldn’t this destroy your ability to learn more from that video than what the person put into it?

                I still can’t understand how you can fail to see the distinction between edited real video segments and completely made-up sounds.

  7. johnpieret
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I was struck by the bird that caught the flatfish shaking the water off while flying.

    • Diego
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I’ve always loved the post-immersion shake of osprey, like a flying wet dog but *far* more graceful. 😉

  8. Taskin
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Holy mackerel!

  9. Posted August 2, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    That bird is a superb hunter! The last part of the clip is truly amazing, I thought it was about to drop the fish!

  10. Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Like with falcons, could you train one to do that? Seems easier than a worms and a bobber…

  11. Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Nature never fails to impress.

    I hope this isn’t too impudent, but you and your readers might be mildly amused by one of my posts; I quote from W.S.Coleman’s book on butterflies an anecdote of him failing to convince people that a moth did NOT bite a chunk out of a womans neck. It tickled me anyway. If you are interested it is at
    I’m not selling anything, I promise!

  12. will
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I wonder if God had a SPECIAL PLAN for those fish that became the meal.

  13. darrelle
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink


    The last moments of that final scene reminded me of this.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I have now upgraded the web status of ospreys as “seriously cool”. Anyone that keeps the eye on the ball (handling fish drops) while estimating flight solutions and juggling aerial acrobatics is a cool bird.

    I was surprised, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be, that a wet bird can do a “dry shake” while in flight.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Oh, so now I want to see a bat doing a “dry shake” in rain, to see if they can do it.

      [Youtube, what do you have for me!?]

    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      I was surprised, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be, that a wet bird can do a “dry shake” while in flight.

      It is the long lost missing link between bird and dog.

  15. Ren
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    All hail the Big Bang!

  16. will
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    ARKive? Is it really necessary to subliminally link beautiful nature to man-made godly stories?

  17. tony bryant
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Amazing when you know that prior to the Fall of Man the Osprey was only eating vegetable matter.
    Surely He moves in a mysterious way.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      God moves in mysterious ways.

      You mean that doesn’t refer to the ecclesiastic controversy over a god that was made in man’s image, yet doesn’t appear to defecate?

    • William Simpson
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      I have a mental picture of an Osprey plunging out of the sky to rip a turnip out of the ground with those talons.

  18. Thanny
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    It was holding its legs in an awkward position to make that huge fish more aerodynamic. I’d love to know if that’s instinctual or learned.

    Posted August 2, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    wow, that is some great video. To be moved emotionally by images like that can certainly qualify as spiritual. After all, reports of spiritual experiences are basically the product of our emotional response to particular environmental conditions and/or altered states of consciousness. Osprey do it for me.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 2, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I like your definition. And Jerry’s reflection on using the word.

  20. microraptor
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I remember the first time I saw an osprey dive- I was pretty shocked. Even though I’d known that they ate fish, I never quite realized that they dove in the water to catch them (I had some sort of mental idea that they’d snatch the fish from the surface or something). Quite impressive on their part.

  21. Andrikzen
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Where’s my atheist church? All around us.

  22. Marella
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Where’s my atheist church? I thought this was it!

  23. marksolock
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  24. Diane G.
    Posted August 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Watching this brought to mind the hypothesis that early human children were preyed upon by large raptors (avian, that is). I can hardly think of anything more horrifying than having something large enough to carry me off soar down on me like this osprey does on fish. Imagine being carried off to feed the nestlings.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 3, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Which is not to say that such birds wouldn’t be awesome! I guess we are rather lucky, though, that today’s awesome raptors are “only” eagle and osprey size.

  25. Jane
    Posted August 3, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Loved it – absolutely amazing photography… although did anyone else think it looked as though the osprey was surfing on the last fish??

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 3, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    That’s amazing. I thought the second sequence (of catching the flatfish) was the most remarkable. The way the osprey extended its talons ahead of it (which not only put them in position to grab the prey, but also cushion the shock of hitting the water and presumably make a hole in the water for the bird (I think divers call it a ‘rip entry’), and also folds its wings back at the moment of impact (because they would likely have been seriously damaged if it hit with them extended) – all need precise timing.

    And shaking itself like a dog – I’ve never seen that on film before. Note it loses all lift while doing so, and has to start ‘flying’ again before it runs out of airspace.

    Remarkable bit of film.

  27. Posted August 3, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Admittedly I’m quote-mining, but Richard Owen didn’t envision the Natural History Museum in London* to be a ‘Cathedral of Science’ for nothing.

    Natural History Museums: it’s just another name for an atheist church. 😉

    * I do however have to confess to preferring the Natural History Museums in Tring and Oxford to the one in London as the exhibitions there have suffered far less from attempts of ‘science outreach’. I prefer my museums with row after row of specimens, plain and simple, but each to their own.

  28. Posted August 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    stunning video! Thanks for posting it

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