5 fascinating facts about the odd but awesome osprey

June 4, 2015, 1 p.m.

The osprey is a unique raptor, standing out not only for its beauty but also for its choice of prey. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about this spectacular bird.

1. The osprey is the only hawk species in North America that eats almost exclusively live fish, with around 80 fish species making up about 99 percent of its diet. The raptor can dive as deep as three feet into the water for fish, but prefers to hunt in shallower areas.

2. This species is also known as the river hawk, fish hawk or sea hawk. But don’t confuse it with the Seahawk, the mascot of the Seattle-based football team. First, there is no such thing as a “seahawk” (one word). Second, the team actually uses an augur hawk as its mascot, a species native to Africa. The osprey may be known as a sea hawk, but it has no connection to football.

3. The osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the peregrine falcon, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. What is even more interesting is that all of the ospreys around the world are part of a single species, with the exception of the eastern osprey which is native to Australia.

4. The osprey species is at least 11 million years old and is so well adapted to fishing that it has evolved unique characteristics that set it apart from other raptor species. These include nostrils that can be closed during dives, and an outer toe that can be angled backwards to better grasp fish. The species is so unique, it is listed in its own genus (Pandion) and family (Pandionidae).

5. Ospreys can live to be 15-20 years old. The oldest known osprey was just over 25 years old. During that long lifetime, the migratory birds can rack up over 160,000 miles of travel. In fact, in 2008 an osprey being tracked by researchers flew an amazing 2,700 miles in just 13 days, traveling from Massachusetts to French Guiana, South America!

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