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  • Writer's pictureAilie Brown

More About Ospreys and Where Do They Winter?

With the recent spell of sunshine we’ve had in the Cairngorms, I took to my local woodland and riverside walk to listen and look for spring birds. Chiffchaffs and Osprey’s are among the early summer migrants I look and listen for. I keep hearing of recent sightings of Ospreys in the area, and every time I see a large bird overhead, I quickly grab my binoculars. No such luck yet, but the anticipation makes it that much more exciting! I’m regularly checking out some well-known nesting sites in the area, online via live cameras and when possible, by foot.

So, in the meantime I decided to learn a little bit more about the Osprey’s I so enjoy bird watching over the long summer months. We watch them build nests that have been damaged by storms over the winter, catch fish from our expansive lochs, rear chicks and eventually, prepare for their return migration.

Here’s some other questions I’ve been pondering, in anticipation of their arrival…

An Osprey sitting on a branch
Osprey perched on lichen covered branch (Simon Eves)

Where were they in winter?

The Osprey’s that visit us here in Speyside during the summer, overwinter in West Africa in countries such as Gambia and Senegal. The pairs we see during the summer, do not winter together. The first time they see each other is when they meet at the nest site. The newly fledged Osprey’s may not return to breeding grounds for 3 years, until they are mature. Although some brave individuals may attempt a journey in their second year, practicing the migration route and looking for potential nesting sites. Practice makes perfect

How long does their migration take?

The Osprey’s leaving Scotland in the autumn can take 4-6 weeks to arrive at their over wintering destinations in West Africa. They will stop to rest at favourite feeding sites for up to a week. The newly fledged Osprey’s use these stops to practice their fishing skills, as they aren’t taught!

Their journey in spring, however, is much quicker as the first one to arrive, get the best nest sites! The length on average is around 6000 km! That’s almost the equivalent of flying from London to New York.

When will they arrive?

The Osprey’s arrive in Speyside at the end of March to start of April. Osprey’s benefit from our long days over the summer months as they fish during day-light hours.

They will breed and stay here until August, when the female will leave first, leaving the male to finish the rearing of the chicks. The chicks will leave one by one, and eventually, the male will leave last, usually by September. The next time the pair will see each other is when they reunite is back at their nest.

The nest will need a spring clean! Just like us, the Osprey’s will need to tidy up, adding some lovely new sticks, clearing away any rubbish or growing weeds and prepping some nice new bedding. The male’s can be so enthusiastic about building up their new nests, they can sometimes bury the females, patiently waiting for the chores to be done!

Osprey, with wings open catching a fish
Ospreys have incredibly powerful wings, allowing them to catch fish that weigh almost the same as them (John Grierson)

How to identify an Osprey?

Firstly, you are more likely to see an Osprey near a body of water as this is where they search for food. They are brown from above and white underneath. They have long wings and short tails. The tips of their wings have four long feathers, and a mottled brown colouration on the underside of the wings. Their claws and beak are black, they also have a brown eye stripe and striking yellow eyes. Although sometimes confused with Buzzards or gulls when in the air, their silhouette is very different. Their wings tend to be pointed and their silhouette resembles the letter M. The female Osprey is around 20% bigger than the males.

I really enjoy watching Osprey’s and find, the more I watch them, the easier it is to identify them. Their shape becomes familiar. I also love the noises they make: their call is short, high pitched, whistling calls, and if you are lucky enough for one to fly over you, you can sometimes even hear their large slow wing beats.

Where to see them?

Speyside is one of the best areas in Scotland to see Ospreys. They frequent over our plentiful lochs and benefit from our rich fish stocks. The Loch of Lowes in Perthshire have had Osprey’s visit for 33 years! Osprey’s have recently been introduced in Rutland Water in East Anglia and Poole Harbour. But here in Speyside you may wish to visit Loch Garten RSPB Reserve or the mouth of the River Spey at Spey Bay.

I suppose we are very lucky to have such special birds’ nest in Scotland. I’m still waiting to see my first one of spring, but I don’t think I’ll have to wait much longer.

Osprey sitting at the top of a tree
An Osprey having a rest at the top of a tree (Kate Mennie)

If you would like to join a Speyside Wildlife guide for the day to help you see Ospreys or other local wildlife, you can find more details here.

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