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Scottish Wildlife: The Mighty Osprey

Posted on May 11, 2015 by Jonathan Willet

The mighty Ospreys are one of the best known birds of prey in the Cairngorms National Park.

Wildlife expert Jonathan Willet shares an insight into an icon of Scottish Wildlife: The Mighty Osprey.

 – Discover Scotland’s iconic wild creatures on a guided adventure.

Learn how to spot Scotland’s mighty Golden Eagle.

How many Ospreys are there in Scotland?

It is hard to imagine that they only started breeding regularly here in 1954 as part of “Operation Osprey”. This RSPB led initiative was to protect a nest near Loch Garten from egg collectors. It succeeded and now we have a Scottish population of nearly 200 pairs and the Osprey on the logo of the National Park.

Scottish Wildlife - the mighty Osprey

Although still relatively uncommon in Scotland, they are not a naturally rare bird and it is thought that as many as 1500 pairs could breed in Britain and Ireland. All over western and southern Europe persecution and egg-collecting has led to their extinctions. But the good news is that they are coming back, with lots of help from the Scottish population. Chicks from Scotland have been relocated to Rutland Water down in England and most recently to the Urdaibai Estuary near Bilbao. See here for more info.

Where do they migrate?

Scottish Ospreys fly via Spain on their way to or from West Africa during their annual migration. They leave the UK around September time and generally return to Scotland in April. The RSPB team at Loch Garten offer a tracking service so you can check out this amazing journey which takes them roughly 2 weeks.

WATCH: Our Wildlife video includes some footage of Ospreys diving for fish:

The ‘Bone-Breaker’ – the origins of the name, Osprey.

Osprey have long captured the imagination of people and its very name derives from the Latin ‘ossifragium’ or ‘bone-breaker’, alluding to the great strength it was thought to have. It does have very powerful legs and feet to catch and hold prey but not quite bone-crushing. It is supremely well adapted to hunting over water, its feathers shed water quickly, it can take off from the water’s surface and it can close its nostrils just before it dives. It is also very good at hovering and waiting to see fish movement before it dives in.

Local Ospreys in the Cairngorms

Our best known Ospreys are EJ and Lady. The soap opera of their breeding seasons has been shared all over the internet and social media for years. Loch Garten’s EJ is a youngster at 18 years old. She has some way to go to beat the record of Lady who nested at Loch of the Lowes for 24 years and was thought to be 29. Unfortunately old age caught up with her this year and she did not return. But life goes on and Lassie the new resident female is incubating eggs just now. See here for more info.

Have you seen them in Scotland?

About the author

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Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

Read more articles by Jonathan


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