Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Ospreys are mainly recorded in Cheshire and Wirral in spring, from late March to May, as they pass through on their return from west African wintering areas to breeding sites in Scotland. Most birds move on within minutes, or hours, but some stop for a few days. By far the longest period in the county was logged in 1998 by a bird that was in the area of Rostherne and Tatton from 3 June to 23 July.

During this Atlas period, there were two instances recorded as possible breeding. One bird frequented the vicinity of Fiddler’s Ferry (SJ58M) from 26 June to 25 July 2005, and two birds were reported in the area of Booths Mere (SJ77U) for 6 days in late May/ early June 2005. They obviously were able to find enough fish to sustain themselves.

Ospreys do not start breeding until at least three years of age, and often older (Poole 1989). Immature birds return towards their natal area at two years of age (Migration Atlas) and it seems likely that it is the adult birds that migrate quickly to their breeding sites and the sub-adults that linger in areas such as Cheshire. The Fiddler’s Ferry bird was identified from photographs as a two-year-old male.

Ospreys used to be extremely uncommon in the county, the fate of all those known to Coward probably explaining their rarity: three birds, all shot, from 1865, 1890 and “winter 1893-94” (Coward & Oldham 1900), and another, a female, shot in 1909 (Coward 1910). Bell (1962) could list only single birds in 1912, 1915, 1940, 1949, 1956, 1957, 1964 and 1965, but sightings have increased in frequency and become annual since 1977. Ospreys have clearly become much more common in Cheshire and Wirral since breeding birds re-colonised Scotland in 1954 following their extinction by persecution in 1916. Pairs have nested in England at two sites since 2001, and in Wales since 2003. The British population, at 160-189 pairs in 2004, is now at its highest for well over 100 years (Holling et al 2007).