The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and Canadian Geographic present
National Bird Project - Vote for Canada's National Bird
National Bird Project - Vote for Canada's National Bird


Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Votes: 245

Photo illustration: Canadian Geographic; Photo: Chris and Debbie Llewellyn, BirdsWeSee.com

This is a large raptor with dark-brown upperparts and white underparts, a small white-capped head with a dark crown, a distinct eyestripe and a faint speckled band across its breast. The osprey makes its habitat on every continent save for Antarctica, most often near bodies of water.

*Provincial bird of Nova Scotia

(Both Sexes)
Weight 1.4-2 kg
Length 54-58 cm
Wingspan 1.5-1.8 m
Osprey range map
Range map courtesy iBird for Windows
Click to enlarge

Vote for the Osprey for Canada’s National Bird


Comments and essays appear in the language in which they were submitted

Swift and steadfast

I find it easier to eliminate birds than to select one. Chickadee? Too cute. Canada goose? Why pick a fowl whose golf-green habits have made it, and us, international pariahs? Yellow-bellied sapsucker? Doesn't fit our new warrior-nation image.

I know others don't share my hesitations, but I'm hamstrung by Canadian diffidence. Nevertheless, I'll swoop in and nominate the osprey as Canada's national bird.

Why? The most distinctive sound of my summers is the cheep cheep cheep of baby osprey. There is an osprey nest in a white pine near my family's lakeside cottage south of Ottawa, and its occupants arrive before we open the place in May. By Canada Day, the chicks are in residence, and within days, like kids at McDonald's, they are demanding food. The parents circle over the lake, occasionally dropping with ferocious speed and then, talons firmly embedded in a fish or water snake, climbing aloft. Soon the offspring will try their own wings, and the parents will depart. But until well after Labour Day, the young osprey hang on, uttering plaintive demands. Cheep cheep cheep.

The osprey would be a perfect national bird because its life and habits mirror ours. Osprey are found coast to coast, and have a distinctive architectural style for summer nests; we do clapboard or log, they do messy twigs. Like Canadians, they're frequently mistaken for being something they're not; we as Americans, they as eagles or, as British visitors may exclaim, "Falcons!" And ospreys mate for life - something we try to do, anyway.

By the time my husband puts our boat into the water next spring, Mr. and Mrs. Osprey will have returned to their nest, ready to hatch another brood and enjoy another summer with the noisy neighbours - we get cheeping, they get operatic arias and the buzz of chainsaws. We'll both be going after the largemouth bass in the lake, but by Thanksgiving, with winter's silence approaching, we'll both have left. What could be more Canadian? Cheep cheep cheep.

Charlotte Gray is author of nine books, the most recent of which, The Massey Murder: A Maid, her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country, won the 2014 Toronto Book Awards. She lives in Ottawa.


Osprey for the National Bird

By Olivia Lum

The osprey is a mighty and strong bird that deserves to be the national bird of Canada. The osprey has features much like the people of our country. Therefore because of this likeness between the osprey and us Canadians we should make it the air born symbol of our country.

For a starter Canada holds one third of all ospreys in the world. Because of this fact that we take care of a very large part of osprey population, they are a symbol that belongs to Canada and should secure their spot of the nation bird of Canada.

Being on the top of the food web is a similarity that we share with the osprey. Also the ospreys are good indicators of the health of the ecosystem around us. Canadians are very conscious of the ecosystem and with this bird around we can monitor it. Canada has lots of lakes and rivers that osprey like to live around because they like to eat fish. Fish happens to be something that Canadians also like to eat and this is another similarity. We also have quite a bit of water around us with the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

A predator, not to the osprey but to their eggs, is the raccoon a very Canadian animal. This means that osprey needs to be very conscience of their eggs until they are ready to hatch in July. July happens to be part of their stay in Canada before flying south in the winter, but they always return to Canada to breed in the spring. Canadians enjoy in the winter going to hot places to get away from the cold weather and the rain and snow of Canada just like the ospreys do.

These are good indicators to show that we have a rightful bird of Canada in the noble osprey. Of all the hundreds of birds in Canada this one has great likings to us and stands out between all the birds we hold in our country.


Osprey (pandion haliaetus)

Canada supports one third of the world's osprey population.

Osprey is a fish-eating hawk with a scientific name called pandion haliaetus. It is a spectacular big bird at the top of the aquatic food web. It has distinct characteristics such as:

gull-like crook in the wing
dark brown line through the eye and on the side of the face
weighs 1.5 to 2.0 kg
wingspan is 1.6 metres. Like other birds of prey the osprey has powerful sharp talons and a hooked beak for handling their prey.

Their hunting abilities are quite dramatic, as they are able to dive into the water from a height of up to 40 metres. The osprey has sharp spines on the soles of their feet that enable them to grasp their prey. When the osprey catches food their opposable outer toe is able to rotate to allow for better aerodynamics while in flight.

Male Osprey provide most of the food for the family while the mother remains at the nest for much of the summer. Osprey feed almost exclusively on fish. In the Great Lakes region their diet mainly consists of brown bullhead, rock bass, small- and largemouth bass, pumpkin seed, bluegill, white sucker, carp and yellow perch.

Osprey live close to water bodies with a rich source of food and they are commonly found as scattered pairs in the interior of Canada and United States.They migrate up to 8,000km to South and Central America.

Osprey are adaptable birds and are able to nest in natural and artificial structures close to water including at the top of dead trees, hydro poles, duck blinds, microwave towers and navigation light towers respectively.

Osprey breed in Canada between April and September. Their eggs are incubated for about 40 days. Chicks fledge in Mid-July when they are about 2 months old, however they remain close to the nesting site for another three weeks or so dependent on the parents for food.

Since osprey are at the top of the the aquatic food web they can be regarded as an indicator of the health and productivity of an ecosystem. If an area is polluted with certain chemicals, animals that are lower on the food chain may digest small amounts of that chemical. Animals such as the Osprey, are at the top of the food web, and will accumulate more toxins in their bodies, a term known as bio-accumulation, therefore, larger animals like Osprey, can effectively determine the condition of the natural environment they are living in.


Widely distributed, there is still a sense of awe when an Osprey is spotted. A large, powerful bird of prey, the Osprey represents Canada’s great water landscape - spending their time along the ocean’s coast and the shores of the many lakes and rivers that cover our great nation. Ospreys faithfully return each year to their nesting area, and often bring with them tidings of a winter past and a summer to come. Easily recognized by amateur and expert birders alike, the Osprey is an attraction for all Canadians.

To us, Ospreys represent the kind of success and achievement in conservation that can only happen with collaboration and hard work. Like many raptors, the Osprey was extremely negatively affected by the spraying of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s. Their resiliency and recovery following the banning of DDT highlight one of the most important steps taken in Canadian history to protect wildlife. Further, it is the Osprey’s adaptability to use man made nesting structures that makes it one of the most, and in our opinion THE most, representative birds of Canada. It provides a true opportunity for community groups to make an impact on and engage with nature. Countless groups across the country have come together to raise Osprey nesting towers, and the abundance and status of Osprey is a representation of the hard work of all of those people. At the rare Charitable Research Reserve in southern Ontario, we have two such towers along the Grand River, and more than any other bird you can see on our property, the Osprey always brings out the biggest gasp of excitement from children at camp, casual trail users, and even our staff.

As an indicator species, the spotting of an Osprey has great depth and represents a healthy future for the Canadian environment. In a time when environmental concerns dominate the headlines, it is always important to remember that hard work in conservation can have fruitful outcomes. The Osprey is a sign of positivity and hope for our treasured environment.


In strictly scientific terms, ospreys are boss. I was dive-bombed by a nesting osprey while collecting field data and my respect for the species only grew. Would that I were an osprey.

This bird lives in all provinces from Newfoundland to BC

The Osprey is a magnificent, proud, fearless, free bird that protects and raises its chicks in a fabulous nest. Its characteristics similar to the people of Canada and it lives in all parts of our great country. The Osprey should be chosen as the national bird to represent Canada.

I have been watching osprey web cams in NA and UK for a couple of years and thoroughly enjoy doing so. I am disappointed in the quality of the HRM webcam which does not have any blog or ongoing info on the site.
We have some osprey that nest somewhere near us and I enjoy watching them when they give me the chance to do so. I recognize their call so know when they are near.

They are a magnificent bird and I totally agree with Ms Grey's comments.
Thank you

I see Osprey quite regularly around Lake Okanagan and smaller lakes in my region. I have travelled to a fair few countries around the world and have never seen Osprey outside of Canada. These are beautiful, clever birds, and they raise their young as diligently as any human would.

Strong and Free


Ospreys kick butt, they are huge and fierce hunters. And they aren't lame or annoying like Geese.

Right now the Common Loon is in the lead, but who wants a bird that spends its time laughing its head off. It doesn't take its place in Canada's national bird lexicon as anything but a joke.

But take for example: the Osprey. A rather confused looking raptor, but hey, we as Canadians are always a little confused about our identity, it's hard working. It's the only raptor that seems to work for a living, it hunts its own food (fish), much like us Canadians who are hard-working and noble in its own way, again, just like Canadians who are a strong but noble people. A fitting counterpart to the United States Bald Eagle Haliaetus Leucocephalus (who seem to prefer Canada over the United States when it comes to raising a family here), who enjoy hanging out with their Pandion haliaetus compadres. So why not vote for a truly Canadian raptor. Since the Americans stole the Bald Eagle, I cast my vote for the noble, hard-working Osprey as Canada's National Bird.

Since I've been able to witness an Osprey family, from building their nest to hunting and taking care of their young, it just seems to be the smartest, most courageous bird I've ever known and is why it should be associated with Canda's identity....A lot smarter than an eagle!

These birds are absolutely fearless. My favorite memory of watching them in action was actually pretty incredible. There's usually a pair or two nesting near the beach where my family spends it's summer vacation on PEI. One day we were watching a bald eagle, also often in the area, when it dove down into the water and apparently captured a cormorant and dragged it up onto the beach. As one of my cousins got a bit too close, the eagle flew away with it's meal to the top of a nearby tree. That tree, however, was just a bit too close to the osprey nest. Now, osprey's are fairly big, but they're not eagle sized. So these two osprey's were dive-bombing the eagle trying to scare it away. They weren't successful, but I have to admire them for their protectiveness of their territory.

I choose the Osprey because it is a majestic bird and its my favourite bird. Adam (13)

I have been involved with a local group "Friends of the Osprey - Kawartha Lakes" for about 40 years. I have also seen Osprey sites in British Columbia while driving to see some of my Family in Nakusp, B.C. The birds are well repesented in many parts of Canada and other parts of the world.

The osprey represents all regions and it is a common bird to the southern fly through zone in my area
For it's size is impressive and skill full

I like the osprey Because they are great at flying.

No essay...it's just my favourite.

Recent sighting in Niagara Falls, Ontario prompted me to stop and taking some pictures and are shown on this link:

Good choice to be Canada's national bird. I've tried to propose habitat programs in our community however, I believe the timing was wrong for that project. Timing is right for now.

The osprey, also known as 'fish eagle', 'sea hawk', and 'river hawk', is seen all across Canada, and lives in a wide variety of habitats, just as human Canadians do. It is diligent in raising and providing for its family, and exemplifies many of the characteristics that we admire in the people of this land.

I voted for the osprey because i saw some and they were nesting.

Osprey is majestic and an amazing hunter. :)

Living around beautiful Canadian lakes most of my adult life, I have enjoyed watching these amazing and powerful birds fish and raise their young. They are wonderful birds and would represent our country well.

The Osprey is found across Canada, and is a self reliant, powerful and beautiful bird. Striking with its rough, solid nests with commanding views of all their surroundings. A big bird with a long view.

A majestic bird from coast to coast.

Ospreys are really cool.

They are very good hunters.
Caring parents
Beautiful calls

For someone like myself who is not too fond of birds, except from a distance, the Osprey grew on me while watching many different web cams and experiencing the eggs being layed, the Ma and Pa helping each other with the general duties both while eggs and once they had hatched. It was a remarkable experience.

I learned a lot about the Osprey and their habits and can't wait to see them back again in the spring....

The osprey should become a national bird symbol because it adaptable, it makes its nest in the same place year after year, but moves about. They are strong and magestic.

I am the founder of the Friends of the Osprey - Kawartha Lakes in 1996. We have a strong organization,but always need more volunteers .

The reason the osprey gets our vote is that they are determined, keen-eyed, single-minded and expert fishers. Sort of like the people who live in our area of BC. Our home is situated in a coniferous forest with a few deciduous trees mixed in to make it interesting. Our friendly local osprey comes to visit every 2 or 3 days bringing a fish he or she has caught to the very top of a dead birch tree. We sit and watch her as she positions herself on the branch, then carefully tears apart her meal of the day. We can see her flying up from the lake, fish grasper in her talons, from quite a distance. We love this beautiful raptor - she has given us a whole new perspective on country living and the challenges wild birds and animals face.

Recently, I stayed at a cottage in New Brunswick located on a beautiful cove. The Osprey and bald eagles were very common sights. At the beginning of our week we were awed by the beautiful eagles. It didn't take long however to move our eyes from the eagles to the osprey. The way it dives for fish is truly remarkable. It has very sharp sight and great speed. Often, the eagles would swoop and try to take away the prized fish. Despite the bullying, the osprey remained strong and would find ways to avert the eagles. It was such an incredible thing to watch. I gained an appreciation for the osprey despite its plain appearance. Its intelligence, speed and focus are very admirable just like many Canadians I know.

The Osprey without a doubt for all the reasons already expressed plus the fact that they have to be aware of Eagles when they share territories. The Eagles like fish as well and have no hesitation in trying to snatch one from an Osprey. The symbolism here is too much to ignore.

I no longer live in Canada, and thus leave my last address

i see these everywhere, although, the loon is on the loonie, so i don't know why it wasn't a choice

A majestic fascinating bird...we have a nesting pair here and I love it when they return in the spring to hatch another brood. I used to watch them when I was a kid in NS and loved to see them dive for fish in Halifax harbour.

The osprey is a very large and visible bird, having an aquatic dimension in its life. The wings flex in a distinctive manner when it's taking off from the water with a fish, which it carries in an aerodynamic alignment, thus exhibiting intelligence in its behaviour. I think a fish-eating bird would be good for drawing attention to the health of lakes and rivers, which are Canada's original roadways.

Fascinated and amused by these birds during my summers in Canada.

I like the imagery of a large strong bird patrolling our skies. This bird ticks all the boxes of what I think our national bird should be. We're a land of water and trees, home of the Osprey.

live on Prospect bay
Love to watch the osprey as they " fish"

This majestic creatures is amazing to watch. The fact that they can reach such high heights and can plummet into the waters to catch a fish. They can also do the same with small critters. This surpasses any eagle. They are the size of a falcon but the wing span of an eagle. By far a beautiful and impressive bird. Deserving to call our land after this bird.

An extremely adaptable and versatile bird, the osprey is a master of hunting and fishing in Canada's great wilderness. Smaller and less flashy than his cousin, the Bald Eagle, the osprey outperforms the eagle in being able resume flight after submerging its wings. The osprey also has a greater carrying capacity relative to body weight when transporting food back to the nest. This is parially due to an adaptation that allows the osprey to carry its prey with one foot in front of the other. In all respects the osprey punches above its weight class, loves to live in vast areas of habitat, has adapted to thrive in this land, and is often overshadowed by his big flashy couain, the bald eagle. For these reasons, the osprey would be a perfect representative of Canada.

The Osprey is making a good come back in our area. Hydro One has installed large nests on top of their poles and the osprey are making homes. A relatively large bird, when they fly and hunt in pairs its an amazing sight. They have a strong call and harden look, their presence seems to defy the forces of naure stacked against them. Its their spirit which reminds me of being Canadian, strong, proud (not overly) and free.

The Osprey follows the great waterways of Canada. It's presence reflects the lifeblood of our great nation, for it was her waterways that led the first explorers, hunters, miners and settlers through the vast tracts of tall timber that made the going rough. Osprey nests indicated good fishing and hunting grounds, they are indeed, synonymous with the health of this nation.

Canada has more more coastline than any other nation and is peppered with lakes and rivers. This bird ranges from coast to coast (and almost to coast). I remember watching them fishing as a youth back home in Nova Scotia and was always mesmerised and mystified. Osprey all the way!

The Osprey is an independent bird not reliant on any other. It can raise chicks near both fresh and salt water proving itself adaptable. Once threatened it has now recovered demonstrating stamina.

So independence, adaptable and stamina, what more could you want!

I would like to see the Osprey as our national bird because it has such a broad range. It can be found in almost every province and territory.

It's my favourite - grace, strength and beauty.

Hard working, not a scavenger, not a bully, mates for life, found throughout the country.

The penultimate connection through our great county is our waterways. Canada is so rich in this resource that many of us take it for granted. I do not; our waterways and the life they embrace are what defines my love of all of Canada. How could it be anything else having grown up near Point Pelee!? Although my family and I now live in Calgary, we have vacation property in British Columbia near Columbia Lake and the Columbia wetlands. When I see the magnificent ospreys in B.C. and Alberta caring for and feeding their young from our rivers, lakes and streams, it reminds me of the complex chains of life that start with our waterways. As they stoop and dive on a fish, and bear it away to devour or for their chicks, I feel they epitomize our magnificent natural country. We are so fortunate to have so many of these beautiful birds throughout Canada

Ospreys are beautiful and majestic birds. I grew up watching them make a comeback around my home after populations were decimated (I would assume by DDT). They are resilient and strong; I would be proud to have this bird as a symbol of my country.

Canada is full of lakes and rivers. Canoeing, boating, swimming and fishing on the banks all the while watching osprey fish and dive into the water is so Canadian.

Ospreys are beautiful birds that inhabit many parts of Canada, unlike snowy owls, which only occasionally come south to some parts. I feel that the National Bird needs to be represented at some time of the year in most of the provinces and territories.

I spent 10 years in B.C., living in Nelson on the shores of Kootenay Lake. One of the great joys of summers was sitting on the beach watching the eagles and the osprey fish. This was my first case of up-front and personal time with osprey and I fell in love with them.

One of B.C.'s ferries was built in Nelson â” The Osprey. She is in service on Kootenay Lake.

The Osprey would be a great choice for a national bird.

It has nothing to do with some moronic gov't trying to see us as a warrior nation. What is wrong with being a peacekeeper? Surely the world needs far more of them!

Canadian Geographic Magazine
Canadian Atlas Online | Canadian Geographic Photo Club | Kids | Canadian Contests | Canadian Lesson Plans

Royal Canadian Geographical Society | Canadian Geographic Education | Canadian Geographic Challenge | Canadian Award for Environmental Innovation

Jobs | Internships | Submission Guidelines

© 2023 Canadian Geographic Enterprises