os•prey (noun)

a large fish-eating bird of prey with long, narrow wings and a white underside and crown, found throughout the world

The definitions vary. Some offer all the nicknames (sea hawk, river hawk, fish hawk). Some feel the need to throw in the Latin name (Pandion haliaetus, from which we can see the likely origin of our word, halitosis, or “fish-breath”). Some choose to make the definition harder to read by adding more leading adjectives (a broad-winged, fish-eating, diurnal hawk). Some prefer a less-adorned approach (a large bird of prey that eats fish). And some go with leaving  that whole “bird of prey” thing unsaid, presumably because they trust *their* readers (Britannica types, don’t you know) to get that concept from the basic definition (a large bird that eats fish).

What most of the websites hosting these definitions have in common is better photos of osprey than I manage to acquire/create. But I bet they don’t have as much fun as I do, looking for osprey nesting sites on White Lake through the courtesy of friends.

At maximum zoom, I can just see a small, feathered lump at the top of an exceedingly tall tree.

Max zoom, from two distances

At maximum-advisable crop (or maybe a bit more), I can see a glint in an eye, a severely hooked bill (the better for tearing fish apart, I’m thinking), and evidence of a unique approach to nest construction.

Sometimes I can see a someone looking back at me.

All of which makes me think there’s still some room for a new definition.


a large bird that builds incredibly messy nests and makes you really (really) glad you’re not a fish


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8 Responses to Fishbreath

  1. I am in awe of the nest: ospreys are engineers equivalent to beavers. That sequence with the subject turning to face you directly is marvellous. Extremely well done, Isabel.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Many thanks. It’s amazing to me how something that looks so haphazard can actually work just swell, even for several years, surviving wind and rain.

  2. Nice “backstory” and images Isabel.

    It isn’t often to see an osprey nest in a natural location (in a real tree) as compared to on a platform.

    It seems the birds are compelled, like their cousins the bald eagle, to add to the existing nest each year, thus adding to its depth/height.

    Personally, assuming I were an osprey who could think like me, I’d prefer a more sheltered home, than nesting in the open atop a tree or platform.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – I know what you mean. I’m guessing the trade-off is for a clear line of sight, both to fish-in-the-lake and to potential predators-in-the-air. But maybe they just like the feel of the wind in their feathers. 🙂

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Osprey (ospreys? osprey?) like to build their nests in high places. Here in B.C., they often try to build on top of electric power poles. Which can create havoc both for the power grid and the osprey. B.C. Hydro has wisely installed some fake poles with no wires, but a platform for the osprey to build on.

    Osprey must migrate (you didn’t say anything about that) because their nests are empty during the winter. And most of us exclaim with pleasure the first day we see that white head sticking out over the pile of debris each spring. Other places hail the return of the robin or the swallow; we mark spring by the return of the osprey.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – To me, osprey has the ring of a word that can add an “s” or not, but I was careful not to put myself in the position where I had to guess. I was racing to make the deadline and didn’t want to spend time chasing down reliable sites. 🙂

  4. Tom Watson says:

    I hadn’t heard of a fish breath. Beautiful looking bird.

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