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My friends think that I'm mad, but I'm pretty sure I saw an Osprey the other day. Could anyone confirm that what I observed is an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) or, at least, Osprey-ish?

I saw the bird here -> Llandegla Forest, North Wales.

It was early evening and I was walking our dogs near Pendinas reservoir in north Wales, UK. I saw a couple of buzzards (common buzzards, Buteo buteo) hovering on the horizon above some trees. I was watching the buzzards when I noticed a third larger bird. Wing span easily half the width of the buzzards again, so roughly 1 1/2 times larger than the buzzards.

I observed all three birds for some time through binoculars. They were quite some distance away though, so I couldn't quite get a really clear view.

At first I thought it was simply another (larger) buzzard but its wings seemed different; rather then the splayed finger wing tips of the other two birds, its wings seemed much longer and distinctly more pointed and downwards pointing at the tips.

It roosted in a tree on the other side of the lake. It was very distinctively a Raptor (which ruled out my other thought of some kind of sea bird). Again, I viewed it through my binoculars. It appeared dark brown and had a distinctive white patch on its chest. Again, quite some distance so hard to get a really clear view.

I went home and checked my bird book. The only bird I could find that matched the description of the size and the distinctive wing pattern was an Osprey. There are half a dozen nesting pairs further up the coast from me but they are not common by any stretch.

Based on my description do you think I could I have confused this bird with another? Or does the Osprey seem the most likely?

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    In the UK, the term applies to the Common Buzzard - it's the only buzzard we have, and is much our most common raptor. I – Tullochgorum May 19 '16 at 12:22
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    The Common Buzzard is widely refereed to as a "Buzzard" it's the originator of the name. Being the only Buzzard in England their was no need for a more complex name until other Buzzards we're discovered, I guess...I suppose I could say Buteo buteo – user2766 May 19 '16 at 12:30
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    @OlinLathrop in the context of the UK, "buzzard" alone is sufficient to identify to the species level. That context could have been clearer in the question – Chris H May 19 '16 at 14:28
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    @Chris: Maybe, but the question still doesn't say this was in the UK, and this is a international forum. Between those there was a lot of legitimate confusion as to what "buzzard" meant. It's like me saying "robin" without stating any location, just assuming people will take that as the American Robin, which is a rather different bird from what is called a robin on Great Britain. – Olin Lathrop May 19 '16 at 15:44
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    @OlinLathrop, I agree with you on the need to be specific. – Chris H May 19 '16 at 15:46
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The osprey does seem the most likely option. There are only a handful of breeding pairs in North Wales, but they are in your area so it's credible.

The wingspan of a small common buzzard starts at around 110cm and a large osprey can reach 170cm, so although they are normally of similar size the wingspan differential is possible. And the osprey has the white chest and narrower wing tip.

Here are comparisons in flight and in silhouette:

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There's nothing else in your area of the right size and shape. So it does sound as though the osprey is your best bet. For more confidence, you could contact local bird watchers or conservationists/rangers. In my experience, they know pretty much everything that moves on their patch...

  • I don't think sea Eagles make it much into the UK outside of the far North West coast of Scotland. If it was a Sea Eagle it'd be the only one ever sighted in Wales! – user2766 May 19 '16 at 12:34
  • You are right - I was misled by a page on the Sea Eagle on the North Wales Wildlife Trust website - I should have read it in it's entirety. northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk/species/white-tailed-eagle. I'll edit my answer. I spotted the very first pair of Sea Eagles over 40 years ago while walking in the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, and a magnificent sight they are. When we contacted the RSPB to ask them what was going on they told us about their secret re-introduction programme and asked us to keep mum! – Tullochgorum May 19 '16 at 12:46
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    Awesome! I tried to find one in Skye, to no avail – user2766 May 19 '16 at 12:59
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    The osprey around me (especially mating pairs) generally will be pretty aggressive towards other birds, but I think it is most likely indeed an osprey – USER_8675309 May 19 '16 at 20:11
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It's certainly possible in North Wales, one was reported near Mold a couple of weeks ago and they're quite mobile at this time of year. I don't think you can rule out common buzzard for several reasons:

  • The colouring of buzzards (buteo buteo) is highly variable. They can easily look as black-and-white as an osprey. One living near me was entirely white underneath except the wing tips.

  • Size is very hard to judge unless birds are right next to each other. Even then, large raptors take time to reach full size, so an adult would look larger than sub adults.

The shape is the best clue you have. Buzzards' wing shape does depend on what they're doing, but if you saw a consistent difference between the known buzzards and the other birds, it's likely to be meaningful.

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    Your latest edit puts you less than 10 miles from where one was seen within the last few weeks, which is encouraging. – Chris H May 19 '16 at 18:31
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In that area, Hen Harriers are reasonably common. They feed on the grouse on the moorland to the south.

Hen Harrier By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

It's distinctivley a Raptor, with a noticable larger wingspan than the buzzard. They circle at times, much like Buzzards.

I've personally seen them flying over the cliffs of Worlds End (2-3 miles south of your position) and flying through the trees, even perching, in Llandegla forest.

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    I did consider the Hen Harrier before writing my own answer, but the max wingspan is only 120cm as against a min wingspan of 110cm for the buzzard, so I didn't see how it could look so much bigger than the buzzards. – Tullochgorum May 19 '16 at 23:07

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