In 1954 Scandinavian birds re-colonised Scotland naturally and a pair has nested successfully almost every year since 1959 at Loch Garten Osprey Centre, Abernethy Forest Reserve, in the Scottish Highlands. The Osprey Centre at Loch Garten has become one of the most well-known conservation sites in the UK and has attracted over 2 million visitors since 1959.
The early re-colonisation was very slow, because of contamination of the food chain by organochlorine pesticides, and the activities of egg collectors, and had reached only 14 pairs by 1976. "Operation Osprey" ensured the security of the birds by stopping egg collectors. Barbed wire was placed around the base of trees, electric wires around the tree and a watch was kept over them through the night. Fifteen years later, in 1991, there were 71 pairs. In 2001, 158 breeding pairs were located, mainly in Scotland. In 2011 RSPB estimated there were between 250 and 300 nesting pairs in Great Britain.
The birds arrive from North Africa in April and leave Scotland in August or early September. In spring and autumn birds of passage will be seen at altitude. Found on many waterside sites throughout the Highlands during the summer. The large untidy nest is usually high in an open structured tree with a nearby perch for the returning male. Males hold the nest territory and at the end of the summer, the female leaves the male to complete the rearing of the surviving juveniles. He then in turn leaves the chicks to complete their own migration alone.
This is a protected species and people are encouraged to go to see regulated nest sites, where there are viewing facilities such as hides and remote camera viewing. For instance, in Perthshire, the Scottish Wildlife Trust site at Loch of the Lowes and in Speyside at the Rothiemurchus Estate.
Males carry the fish they catch back to the nest, aligned “head first” in their large curved talons. This means that they are aerodynamically efficient.
Unlike other raptors, they feed exclusively on fish, both marine and freshwater and have specially adapted nasal valves which close when the bird in underwater. These birds travel south to Africa for the winter and can live for up to 40 years.
A breeding pair of Ospreys has been seen for the last few years hunting for fish on Loch Earn and many visitors to the area have witnessed the birds struggling to get airborne once a large fish has been caught.
If you are coming to central Scotland for a holiday in one of our self-catering holiday cottages during the Osprey ‘season’ keep your eyes open for these fascinating birds as they can be seen in many parts of our area.