Birds of Prey in Britain
White-tailed Eagle (Haliaetus albicilla)
The White-tailed Eagle became extinct in Britain in the early 1900's. A successful re-introduction programme on the west coast of Scotland has seen the numbers rise to over forty breeding pairs. The largest Bird of Prey in Britain, this Eagle will snatch fish from the water. The White-tailed Eagle will also hunt mammals and waterfowl, as well as eating carrion. The White-tailed Eagle builds it's nest on rocky ledges and in large trees.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
This majestic predator still suffers from persecution by man. Found mainly in the north and west of Scotland. The current breeding population is estimated at just over four hundred breeding pairs. Large enough to take young Red Deer and Roe-deer, the Golden Eagle will hunt rabbits, hare, and medium to large birds. There are reports of Golden eagles killing adult Red deer. Known to eat carrion. The Golden eagle will build it's nest on protected rock ledges and large trees. The breeding pair may have as many as three or four alternative nest sites.
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
One of the most common Birds of Prey in Britain, they have recovered well from near extinction in the 1950's when persecution by man, and myxomatosis in the rabbit population, their main diet, almost saw their demise. Remarkably adaptable, the Buzzard has developed into a scavenger, preferring road-kill and carrion to live prey. Buzzards will take small to medium mammals, birds, and even worms. The Buzzard will mainly build it's nest in large trees.
Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
Hunted to extinction in the 19th century, the Goshawk is a formidable and fearless hunter. A reputation for never giving up on prey, it will hunt anything from small birds to hares. A woodland dweller, the Goshawk adapted well to coniferous forests. Estimated at some four hundred breeding pairs. Nests are built in large trees.
Sparrow-hawk (Accipiter nisus)
The Sparrow-hawk has recovered well from persecution and the use of pesticides. So intent on the pursuit of prey, many are killed or injured colliding with trees or windows. Sparrow-hawks will hunt down birds up to their own size. Often blamed for the demise of song and garden birds, however, domestic cats and loss of habitat are the biggest culprits. The Sparrow-hawk will build it's nest in tall trees.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Persecution reduced red Kite numbers to a dozen at the start of the 1900's. Re-introduction programmes, using imported birds, have seen Red Kite numbers grow rapidly. A notorious scavenger, they will eat anything. Easily identified by the distinctive "V" shaped tail. Red Kites will nest in large decidious trees.
Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
A ground nesting bird, the Hen Harrier suffered from persecution like many other Birds of Prey. Habitat loss contributed to the reduction in numbers. A striking diffirence between the dark brown female, and the grey male. The male is often seen transferring food to the female in flight during the breeding season. The Hen Harrier feeds on small mammals and ground nesting birds.
Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginous)
The natural habitat of the Marsh Harrier is bog, reed-beds and marshland. Land reclamation contributed to their extinction in the early 1900's. Protection of habitat, and the arrival of birds from the continent has helped numbers slowly increase since the 1930's. Nesting mainly in reed-beds, the Marsh Harrier will feed on wading birds, ducks, and small mammals.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
For many years, the Peregrine Falcon suffered from direct persecution by man. During both world wars, a "shoot to kill" policy existed, as the Peregrine was responsible for killing many carrier pigeons. Pesticides also contributed to their demise, introduced to kill off the birds feeding on crops, it was introduced into the food chain. Now, although still persecuted by egg thieves and the pigeon racing fraternity, the numbers are recovering. The fastest creature on earth, reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph. Peregrines have adapted well to city life, nesting on tall buildings, and feeding on city dwelling pigeons. Feeding only on birds, the Peregrine lays it's eggs directly on to rocky ledges, or ledges on buildings.
Hobby (Falco subbuteo)
The habitat of the Hobby is now limited to the southernmost part of Britain. This small, agile falcon, will prey on large insects, small birds, and even bats. Mostly seen at dusk, as the prey becomes active. Many Hobbies visit Britain to breed. The Hobby does not build it's own nest, but uses the abandoned nests of crows, magpies, or even squirrels.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
The smallest of the British falcons, this very fast, agile little bird will chase it's prey. A heath and moorland dweller, the Merlin has not suffered from persecution like other Birds of Prey, as it is too small to hunt game birds like Grouse. The Merlin will hunt small to medium sized birds, including wading birds. The Merlin nests mainly in open moorland.
Kestrel (Falco tinunculus)
The Kestrel hunts in a totally unique way to other members of the falcon family. Often seen hovering by the side of roads and motorways, the Kestrel follows the "Ultra-violet reflecting", urine trail of voles and mice, looking for prey. Loss of habitat , such as hedgerows, due to modern farming methods, has forced this bird to seek new hunting grounds. Numbers were in decline, although seen more often due to the change in hunting habits. The Kestrel will nest in tree hollows, ground scrapes, hedges and abandoned nests.
European Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)
There is no evidence to confirm if the European Eagle Owl was a resident of Britain in past centuries or not. However, there are reported to be some sixty breeding pairs. It is possible those birds are escapees, released illegally, or have arrived from the continent. One of the largest owls in the world, this ferocious bird will dominate it's territory, killing, or driving off, other Birds of Prey. Large enough to kill foxes and Roe-deer, Eagle Owls will feed on rabbits, hares, and birds up to the size of Buzzards. The Eagle Owls will nest in scrapes among rocks, the ideal habitat is abandoned quarries.
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)
The most numerous owl in Britain, numbering approximately 100,000 pairs. A purely nocturnal, woodland dweller. Hunting from a perch, this owl will feed on small mammals, birds, and even fish and frogs. The classic "too-wit-too-woo" owl. Nests mainly in tree hollows.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
This once common owl is now endangered. Loss of habitat and nesting sites due to modern farming methods, have caused the numbers to drop to a dangerous level, estimated at around four thousand breeding pairs. The Barn Owl will hunt by flying low, and slowly over the ground, quartering, using it's remarkable hearing to search for voles, shrews, and mice. The Barn Owl will nest in hollow trees, buildings, and rock crivices.
Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)
A common, but rarely seen owl. Another woodland dweller, well camouflaged, the Long-eared Owl's remarkable hearing makes it an extremely efficient hunter. Main diet consists of mice and voles. Very adaptable, this owl will turn to hunting small to medium sized birds in winter. The Long-eared Owl will nest in abandoned crow and magpie nests.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Short-eared Owls prefer to hunt in open moorland, heath and marsh. Often seen during daylight, they hunt in a similar way to Barn Owls, quartering and hovering over the ground in search of prey. The number of Short-eared Owls is difficult to estimate. Main diet consists of voles, however, they will feed on other small mammals if required. The Short-eared owl will nest in a ground scrape, usually in tall vegetation.
Little Owl (Athene noctua)
This unusual little owl was introduced into Britain in the 19th century. Mainly found in the south of England, the Little Owl is now being found as far north as Northumberland. Unusually, this owl is mainly a daylight hunter, taking large insects, worms, and small mammals. The Little Owl will even hunt small birds during breeding season. The Little Owl will nest in holes in walls and trees, and has been known to use abandoned rabbit burrows.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
The most well known of the annual visitors to Britain. Persecuted to extinction in the early 1900's, a pair of Ospreys re-appeared in Scotland in the late 195'0's, and bred successfully. Since then, breeding pair numbers have grown, and other areas have been used as nesting sites. The Osprey winters in Africa, returning each year to the same nesting site. Feeding on an exclusive diet of fish, the Osprey will build it's nest in a large tree, close to an abundant supply of food.
Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)
Normally a resident of the northern tundra, this bird gets it's name from the feathering on it's legs. Rough-legged Buzzards arrive on the eastern side of Britain during October and November. In Britain, these birds prefer moorland, wetland, farmland and dunes. Used to eating a diet of lemmings, they will hunt small and medium sized mammals.
Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
Wintering in Africa, the Honey Buzzard visits Britain from April to August, to breed. The Honey Buzzard does not eat honey, but feeds on the larvae of wasps and bees. Evolution has provided the tools to enable this bird to cope with stings, hard scaly feathers on the head, and to extract the larvae from the nest. The Honey Buzzard will rely on a substitute diet of small mammals, birds, eggs, and fruit, if required. The nests of the Honey Buzzard are built in tall trees.
Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
The Montagu's Harrier is an occassional breeding visitor to Britain. It's habitat is limited to the southwest of Britain. Usually resident from April to September, preferring marshes, dunes and heath-land. Nests on the grass, usually in tall vegetation. A varied diet consists of small mammals, songbirds, reptiles, amphibians, chicks and eggs.
Gyr Falcon (Falco rusticolus)
Only the white Gyr Falcon from Greenland and Canada has been seen in Britain, in the northern isles. The Gyr is the largest of the falcon family. This powerful bird is capable of taking down geese and seabirds. In the tundra, the Gyr will nest on rocky ledges.
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
The Snowy Owl is a large owl with dense feathers, capable of withstanding very low temperatures. A very rare visitor, a pair were known to breed on Shetland in the early 1970's. In the Arctic tundra the main diet is lemmings, however, this strong hunter will feed on shrews, rabbits, voles, geese and seabirds. The Snowy Owl will build it's nest on rocky outcrops in the tundra.