The Osprey in Victorian Nottinghamshire

In the first half of the nineteenth century, William Felkin tells an intriguing story about an osprey in Nottinghamshire:

“In 1839, a female was captured at Beeston Rylands, and kept alive sometime; it was tamed, and often used to fly from its owner’s house to the river, and stand in the shallow water it measured 5’7″ from tip to tip of its wings.”


In 1855  William Sterland tells how a bird took up a temporary residence on the edges of the lake at Thoresby during the summer:

“Attracted in its wanderings by the piscine resources of the large sheet of water where I had the pleasure of seeing it. Here it remained some weeks, faring sumptuously, its manner of fishing affording me and others who witnessed it much gratification ; its large size, its graceful manner of hovering over the water when on the lookout for its prey, and the astonishing rapidity of its plunge when darting on its victim, rendering it a conspicuous object:

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It then to my great regret took its departure, doubtless alarmed at the attacks of the gamekeepers, who viewed its successful forays with little favour.”

In 1880 an Osprey was trapped at Rainworth on an unrecorded date. In one of his notebooks, Joseph Whitaker described it as:

“a beautiful Osprey caught in a rabbit trap by Mr F Ward on May 16th. It measured 5’4″ from wingtip to wingtip.”


A further account of what is presumably the same occurrence is included in Whitaker’s own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, written out in his own hand opposite the entry for this species:

“One of the Duke of Portland’s keepers caught a fine specimen of this Hawk this morning Tuesday. On Monday evening he saw the bird flying about over the heather on the forest where it struck a rabbit & carried it off. About half past four this morning (Tuesday) he again observed the bird strike a rabbit but being near he left it having some traps with him he quickly set some & soon had him in one the bird was in good condition & very fine plumage it measured 5 feet 4½ inches inches from tip to tip.”

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This final account occurs in “The Zoologist” magazine for 1890:

“One of these fine, but now, alas ! rare birds was shot about the middle of November last by Mr George Edison at Shire Oaks Hall in this county. When he first noticed it, it was hovering over one of the pieces of water near the house, but was being teased by a number of Rooks, who drove it over him, when he shot it. I hear it was a very fine bird, and in good condition. Shire Oaks is just the place to attract an Osprey, having several beautiful sheets of water full of fish of good size, and many species – J WHITAKER, Rainworth,  Notts.”

The editor of “The Zoologist” has added his own opinion at the end of the letter. He writes:

“What a pity that it could not be allowed to remain unmolested in a spot so well suited to its habits. To see an Osprey catch a fish is one of the finest sites in nature.-ED”

Ain’t that the truth!

Nowadays, of course, you can drive the thirty or forty miles south to Rutland Water where Ospreys have been introduced and in the summer as many as eight breeding pairs may be seen:


Here is the link to the webcam which keeps watch on one of the birds’ nest.


Filed under History, Science, Twitching, Wildlife and Nature

13 responses to “The Osprey in Victorian Nottinghamshire

  1. The Ospreys at Rutland are really magnificent.
    If you shoot an osprey can you eat it? What does it taste like I wonder?

    • Fishy perhaps? Or, a bit like chicken, as they always say. Back in those days, they shot them as trophies to be stuffed by taxidermists, so they could then be put on display in the big country house for their friends to see, Actually, it does make you wonder what the taxidermists used to do with the left over bits. I can’t imagine that they put them in a plastic bag inside like Tesco do.

  2. A truly beautiful bird. One of the finest we have gracing our wonderful shores.

    • Absolutely. And a monument to all the people who managed to get laws passed such as those for protected species or against indiscriminate killing of birds of prey. Only a few rogue people like that are left, but I do see a day when birds such as Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers have nothing to fear.

  3. They’re so strong. The fish they can fly with are quite heavy compared to the bird’s bodyweight.

    • Absolutely correct. I suppose it’s like one of those weightlifters who can lift somebody who is heavier than they are. As far as I know, the ant is the champion with an incredible lift like a human picking up a car or a lorry.

  4. How beautiful hey are. Trust AP to add such an ironic comment. I see NO excuse and I wonder how the English with such a love for pets can be so eager to shoot at wild things that fly. The link is to wedgetailed eagles. I’m quite a fan

  5. Only the grouse shooting estates still break the laws about killing birds of prey here in England. The worst places are Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Absolute worst of all is Malta where all species of birds are slaughtered as soon as they appear. All of it is illegal but the governments in these countries are so weak that they do not bother to enact European laws about killing wild animals. The situation is so bad that the Turtle Dove is being driven inexorably to extinction by the killing in Mediterranean countries, a little bit, perhaps, like the Passenger Pigeon in the New World.

  6. I cannot believe the amazing osprey photographs. Smiles, Robin

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