Where Do The Ospreys Go In The Fall?

A Guest Blog by Center volunteer, Jodi McLaughlin:

I used to migrate between CA and PA. Life changed dramatically when I became a caregiver for my dad who was housebound most of each day. But l was blessed. Not only did I get to be with dad all day, we have a colony of 9 osprey nests viewable right outside our windows.

“Osprey – female” by Pamala Wilson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

When you can watch osprey flying by every window of your house it is not like seeing the random animal run through your yard. You become an osprey junky. You begin to recognize every call they make and you notice their subtle movements on the nest. And so it is that I have now studied osprey for 6 years monitoring over 30 active nests located primarily along the inland bays. I note dates of arrival, egg incubation and hatching, chick fledgling and then, bummer, fall migration.

If ospreys lived here year round
I might not find them as fascinating.


Their lives remind me of a romance novel. Imagine this; after a fabulous summer on the Inland Bays dining and sunning with your soul mate, you decide to lift off, free of baggage, bidding goodbye to your home and responsibilities with not one worry. You say “bon voyage” to your mate for 6 months and then lovingly reunite in the spring?  Yes, that IS the “Sprey Life”!

I generally get a heads up that migration is on the horizon when I see the adult females perching nearby as their mates collect and place sticks on the now empty nests. Ospreys like to leave their homes looking nice for the winter. Never mind the gulls and eagles will move in and make a huge mess.

So…Where do they go?

The number one question I am asked is “Where DO the ospreys go in the fall?” They all go south to find food and many will swap their ravenous fish diet from salt to fresh water fish. Adult ospreys have made the roundtrip many times and will follow the same route down the coast of the US, hopscotch across Cuba, Hispaniola, and assorted islands and end up at their favored wintering grounds somewhere in the interior of South America. A few travel as far as Argentina but many go to Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil. Just like our geese there is a resident population of osprey in Florida and rarely a juvenile osprey will stop off there but most osprey that migrate along the eastern flyway of the US continue their travels south across the Caribbean Sea.

Saying goodbye to the family

Paired ospreys do not migrate or winter together. The juveniles born this year will have to find their way south all by their lonesome and they will not return here next year but instead take a gap year and remain south until 2020. Research numbers vary but up to 80% of juveniles do not survive their first year of life as their maiden migration is treacherous. Catching a strong tailwind from the north, adult female osprey are the first to migrate, and will depart sometime by late August. Next the juveniles born this year will take short trips around the area, perfecting their flight and fishing skills, and then usually by mid-September they will meander south finding their own way to a wintering ground that attracts them.

The adult males are usually the last to leave. A few may be spotted near their nest as late as the first week of October but many leave before the end of September. Adult males remain behind to care for the juveniles and perhaps to guard their nest territory so long as the other adult males are nearby. Southbound mature ospreys take their sweet time but in the spring they use warp speed to claim their prized northern nest site and reunite with their bonded mate. In a perfect world ospreys can live to 15 years or more and they often bond with a mate and nest for that lifetime.

The ospreys that
grace your world each summer
are truly part of your community.

To learn more about osprey migration check out Rob Bierregaard’s comprehensive osprey tracking website www.ospreytrax.com and his just published kid’s book for all ages “Belle’s Journey, An Osprey Takes Flight”

Posted Under: Staff Blog