The Osprey is Nova Scotia’s provincial bird. It is a large and powerful bird that is approximately 55 to 65 cm (21 to 26 in.) long. Most of the upper parts are dark brown, while most of the head and the under-parts are white. A dark streak runs from the base of the beak, across the eyes, to the back of the head.
Ospreys look very similar to eagles, except for the distinct structure of the outstretched wings that makes the Osprey's in-flight silhouette resemble the letter M: the long, narrow, arched wings have a bend at the wrist joint and the tips are angled slightly backwards.
Although the Osprey is related to hawks, Old World vultures and eagles, scientists place it in a sub-family of its own. They do this because they recognize that the Osprey has developed distinct characteristics. These adaptations are to the toes and feet, and specifically help with fishing; the Osprey eats only fish. Ospreys have four equal-sized toes, and the outer toe can turn backwards: having two toes facing forwards and two toes facing backwards helps the bird to catch its prey. Its grip on its slippery prey is helped by long, sharp, curved claws on each toe, and short, rigid spikes (called spicules) on the sole of each foot.
When hunting, the Osprey hovers in the air from about 10 to 30 metres (33 to 98 ft.) above water, waiting to spot a fish. Once it has, it waits until the fish is in a suitable position before swooping down. The bird descends from the sky with its wings closed and its claws stretched forward. It typically disappears completely under the water, and, usually, when it reappears a few seconds later, it will be holding a fish. Because its plumage is fine and dense the Osprey does not get overly wet while fishing in water.
The Osprey is one of the most widely distributed bird species in the world. It can be found on ocean coasts and along the shoreline of large lakes and rivers on all continents and islands, except in polar and sub-polar regions where water surfaces are frozen most of the time, and on very isolated islands in temperate and tropical zones.