Yellowstone: Osprey

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

The osprey is a large, fish-eating raptor species found on all continents except Antarctica. Osprey eat live fish and dive into the water to catch them. The US osprey population plummeted from the 1950s to the 1970s when DDT caused shell thinning. After the US banned DDT in 1972, ospreys have done better, but they’re still listed as endangered or threatened in some states. The above photo from Grand Teton NP is our best photo for showing the osprey.

Driving above a canyon of the Lamar River on our first day in Yellowstone, we stopped when lots of parked cars and tripods indicated something to see. The next photo is better than what we saw — the photo is at 100 mm or 2x magnification.

osprey nest above Lamar River
osprey nest above Lamar River, at 100 mm (click to enlarge)

Once again, we had to ask other folks what they were looking at. As usual, we needed a lot help, and we got it. People at Yellowstone were super nice, excited about what they saw and taking the time to share. With binoculars, we finally saw a nest on top of a dead tree across the river.

Here’s the nest at 400 mm, cropped so the osprey is larger than in the uncropped original photo.

osprey nest
osprey nest (click to enlarge)

The osprey nest is a large mass of sticks on top of a dead tree above the river. An adult osprey is in the nest. The osprey has a white body and head, with brown wings. At first we thought that they were bald eagles (wishful thinking), but that was not to be.

As shown in the photo below, a second adult osprey is perched on a dead tree, to the right of the nest. This photo is at 400 mm, uncropped, so it’s 8x magnification. Perhaps now you can see the second osprey in the 100 mm photo — look for the white head. The 100 mm photo is at 2x magnification, so this is easier than seeing objects with the naked eye.

second adult osprey on a tree to the right of the nest
second adult osprey on a tree to the right of the nest, 400 mm (click to enlarge)

We returned on a sunnier day and watched them. Below, a light-colored osprey is in the nest, and a darker one is landing on the nest.

osprey landing on nest
osprey landing on nest (click to enlarge)

Here’s an HD video of an adult feeding chicks. To best see the babies, click on the YouTube symbol and select 1080 under settings.

We saw a second osprey nest on the Yellowstone River in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We asked a ranger there for suggestions to see bald eagles. He suggested Yellowstone Lake and told us about an osprey nest at Lookout Point, on the opposite rim of the canyon.

We drove to Lookout Point, parked, and looked for tripods with cameras or spotting scopes. We didn’t see any, so we had to look around on our own. Finally we saw this scene. Here’s the photo at 100 mm, or 2x magnification.

osprey nest at Grand Canyon, 100 mm
osprey nest at Grand Canyon, 100 mm (click to enlarge)

Can you see the nest? In the center of the photo, there’s a rock spire, with a nest of sticks on top of the spire.

We moved to a closer spot. Here’s the nest at 400 mm.

2 adult ospreys
2 adult ospreys, 400 mm (click for enlarged photo)

There are actually two adult osprey in the nest, a darker one on the left and a lighter one on the right. Here’s a crop of the above photo. Osprey have white legs.

crop of 2 adult ospreys
crop of 2 adult ospreys (click to enlarge)

An adult flew off, and then it got interesting. We thought we saw two or three chicks, but we weren’t sure. As we left, we saw a ranger with a spotting scope; most are more powerful than our camera and telephoto. We asked him if he saw two or three chicks. He wasn’t sure it if there were two or three.

At home, we downloaded the photos to our desktop computer and examined them more closely. Here’s the best one.

osprey adult and 3 babies
osprey adult and 3 babies (click to enlarge)

In Lightroom, I can magnify the image so that each pixel on the photo is mapped to a pixel on the monitor. I think I see three babies, each with a light-colored stripe.

People walked by and asked us what we were looking at, and of course we told them. In a few days we had moved from asking others for help to being able to spot wildlife and pass on the info to others.

Reflecting on what we saw, both osprey nests had a pair of adult osprey. Each pair had a darker-colored and a lighter-colored osprey. (We’ve read that the female is darker.) One adult was always in the nest. The other osprey would roost, fly around, and return to the nest. Both adults were in the nest a very short time. Both nests had chicks.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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