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Kielder ospreys reveal surprising migrations

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Tweed Valley osprey chick

Last year was an outstanding one at Kielder Water and Forest Park for some of the best known inhabitants - the ospreys. New tracking devices revealed surprising migration activity including an accidental u-turn and an unusual long stop in Morocco.

For the first time, the two well-established nests saw three chicks fledge from each. A third pair of ospreys bred for the first time on another nest platform erected by the Forestry Commission, producing two healthy offspring.

Partners in the osprey project are currently looking for further locations in Kielder Water and Forest Park for new nest platforms.

There was another important first for the Kielder ospreys with trackers fitted to three chicks. The tiny backpacks use satellites to pinpoint their position then transmit the data daily via the cell towers for mobile phone networks. This provides much more data than previous tracking devices. The information provides greater understanding of different migration techniques and foraging patterns and also new insights into migration strategies – including total distance travelled, time taken to migrate, stop overs and stop over duration.

Joanna Daily, volunteer for The Kielder Osprey Project, says about analysing migration data,

“Analysing each download is fascinating, it is almost like travelling with the osprey as he/she changes altitude and/or speed. Seeing how they establish a territory - for example testing different roost points - is giving insight into what habitat they prefer.”

From sightings of UK ospreys and data from the relatively few ospreys previously fitted with trackers, West Africa (from southern Mauritania to the Ivory Coast) is regarded as the likeliest migration destination, although some overwinter in Spain.  The 3,000 plus mile journey is hazardous for a first time migrator and life in the wintering areas holds more threats (such as crocodiles) than the UK. Only between 20-30% of juveniles are likely to return to the UK in two to three years’ time. One Kielder juvenile, VV (her blue ring letters) probably died in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa as data stopped in mid September 2014.

The first unusual event identified from the tracking data was when the female from Nest 2, 7H (her blue ring identification), did an ‘about turn’ when part way across the Bay of Biscay and headed for North East France. Closer examination of the data found she had begun to look for a roost for the night and landed on an ‘island’ that was in fact a ship! She wasn’t happy on that roost and took off to find a better place for the night as it got dark. She chose another ship and unfortunately this one was heading for The English Channel. 7H only realised her error at first light then had to cross virtually the whole of the Bay of Biscay again. Other cases have been recorded of ospreys landing on ships, but a remarkable start to 7H’s journey nonetheless.

After flying through Northern Spain and Portugal 7H had another long sea crossing over the Atlantic, making landfall in Morocco. Instead of flying on south she stopped just a couple of days later and chose central Morocco as a staging post or overwintering site, close to a city the size of Jarrow, Azemmour. 7H is the first UK osprey known to have had either a long stop or overwinter in Morocco. Very recently there has been no new data so she may have travelled on out of cell tower coverage at present.

The third tracked youngster is male. He is named UV from his ring letters. UV has had a very unusual first migration. He crossed the Bay of Biscay and flew to Northern Spain via Portugal. He stopped in mid-September in an area with many reservoirs in the Setubal region of South West Portugal and was still there in early December. It looked as though he was going overwinter in Portugal. The first ever census of overwintering ospreys took place this month in Portugal and over 70 individuals were identified from the ‘citizen science’ event. But UV wasn’t one of them. Unexpectedly, on 7 December he flew out to sea and then across the Atlantic to Africa! His time in Portugal is the longest known for a UK osprey on ‘stopover’ in Iberia. Typically, they spend only a couple of weeks, and sometimes less, to build up reserves before continuing migration.

After flying around 700 miles non-stop for over 24 hours across the Atlantic, UV carried on for another four hours before stopping for a rest. For the next couple of days he continued south but not to Mauritania or beyond. Instead, he turned sharply towards the coast when in Western Sahara and settled at the Gulf of Cintra, a bay on the coast near rich fishing grounds and which is an important area for spawning sardines. Not a fish UV would have tasted at Kielder! And another record for Kielder - no other UK ospreys are known to have stayed any length of time in Western Sahara. But after nearly six weeks and seeming to be settled there UV headed south on 21 January, reaching Mauritania by nightfall. Currently he is still on the move, mainly very close to the coast of West Africa.

The popular Kielder Osprey blog ( keeps people up to date in the UK and overseas. Last year there were over 75,000 views of the site throughout the year.


For further information please contact Katherine Patterson at the Forestry Commission on 01229 862025 or

Notes to editors:

Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust is a registered charity working to develop the Park as an inspirational place. It aims to improve economic, social and environmental sustainability, provide public recreation and leisure facilities, facilitate education in all aspects of the natural environment and advance art and architecture in the Park. The Trust works with the range of communities to benefit from these activities.    

Members, who have appointed directors/trustees to serve on the board, are Northumbrian Water, Forestry Commission, Calvert Trust Kielder and Northumberland County Council. Affiliate organisations that are not members but have a close working relationship with KWFPDT include Arts Council England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, The Scout Association and local decision making bodies such as the parish councils

Historically ospreys lived in Northumberland, hunting on the once extensive network of marshes. Accounts written in the 1700s refer to the presence of `fish eating hawks’ locally. However, until 2009 there were no records of the bird breeding in the county for well over two centuries. The Kielder Water & Forest Park ospreys are thought to originate from the expanding Scottish population.  Ospreys were once distributed widely, but persecution resulted in the species becoming extinct in England as a breeding bird in 1840 and in Scotland in 1916. Some birds re-colonised Scotland in the 1950s and by 2001 there were nearly 160 breeding pairs (today about 200). The same year saw the first successful osprey nests in England for 160 years by re-colonising birds in the Lake District and re-introduced ones at Rutland Water in the East Midlands.

eOsprey fact file:

  • Ospreys are migratory and arrive in late March and April. They leave again for Africa in August and September.
  • The bird of prey is an Amber List species because of its historical decline  (due  to  illegal  killing  and  egg theft) and low breeding numbers.
  • Ospreys normally breed for the first time when they are aged between three and five years old.
  • They are largely monogamous and strongly faithful both to nest and mate.
  • The nest is generally built on the top of a large tree, usually a conifer.
  • Females lay two or three eggs at one to three day intervals which are incubated for 37 days per egg.
  • Ospreys divide the nesting duties between the pair.  The female does most of the incubating, brooding and direct feeding of the young.  She guards them throughout the nesting period and will share the hunting at later stages when the chicks are  larger. The male is the major provider of fish for the female and chicks.
  • Chicks fledge about seven weeks after hatching.