British Birds Of Prey

Birds of prey, otherwise known as raptors, by definition catch their food using their feet instead of their mouths like most other birds. They also have acute vision and hearing and powerful talons and beaks.

Birds of prey can be divided into a number of families including buzzards and hawks, falcons, vultures, kites, harriers, eagles, owls and osprey, and in the UK you can find examples from all of these groups except for vultures.

Most birds of prey are diurnal meaning they hunt during the day although some owls are nocturnal and hunt solely after dark. British birds of prey tend to  feed on small mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, birds and molluscs while Old and New world vultures prefer to eat carrion.

Sparrowhaks will sometimes visit gardens, and peregrine falcons can be spotted in towns and cities, whereas it is more difficult to see owls who rarely conduct their activities during the day. Birds of prey can be difficult to tell apart, particularly when you can only catch a fleeting glimpse of them or see a distant silhouette in the sky.

British Birds Of Prey Identification Guides

Find out more about some of the most common British birds of prey including identifying features, nesting and feeding habits and take a listen to their calls:

Montagu's Harrier

Circus pygargus
Rare bird of prey with a long tail and long pointed wings with black tips. Summer visitor that migrates to Africa for the winter. Feeds on small birds, rabbits, voles, and shrews.

Long-Eared Owl

Asio otus
Medium-sized owl with long ear-tufts which are raised when it is alarmed. Buff-brown with darker streaks and orange eyes. Nocturnal and secretive and only likely to be seen during migration.

Rough-Legged Buzzard

Buteo lagopus
One of the UK’s less familiar birds of prey. Distinguished from the common buzzard by its heavily feathered legs and longer wings. Hovers in the air over one spot for some time while looking for prey.

Barn Owl

Tyto alba
A distinctive countryside bird with a heart-shaped face. Best to see them at dusk in open country. Comes to a near hover before diving to catch small mammals.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk

Accipiter nidus
The bird of prey you’re most likely to see in your garden. Adapted for hunting birds in confined spaces. Prey mainly on small birds. Females can catch birds up to the size of pigeons.

Common Buzzard

Buteo buteo
The most widespread bird of prey n the UK. Broad, rounded wings, with a short neck and tail. Found all year round soaring over wooded hillsides or perched on roadside fences and posts.

Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos
Large bird of prey that uses its wings to soar on air currents while looking for prey. Will occasionally chase other birds in flight. Dark brown plumage with golden-brown nape. The strong bill is blueish-grey.

European Honey Buzzard

Pernis apivorus
Large bird of prey with broad wings and a long tail. Plumage is variable but adults are generally grey-brown with white underparts. Nest sites are kept secret to protect them from egg collectors and disturbance.

Common Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus
Pointed wings and long tail. A familiar sight hovering by roads. Have adapted well to city centres. Hunt by sight hovering before attacking from above.

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Tawny Owl

Strix aluco
A small owl about the size of a pigeon. Round body and head and dark feathers around its face. Nocturnal, they can often be heard at night rather than seen.


Falco subbuteo

Little Owl

Athene noctua


Pandion haliaetus


Falco columbarius

White-Tailed Eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla
The UK's largest bird of prey. Brown body with conspicuously pale head. White tail feathers and massive fingered wings. Found mainly in Scotland.

Northern Goshawk

Accipiter gentiles

Red Kite

Milvus milvus
Graceful bird of prey with a reddish-brown body, angled wings, and forked tail. Saved from exrtinction by a successful reintroduction programme. Can be seen all year round in flocks soaring or feeding on the ground.

Western Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrines

Short-Eared Owl

Asio flammeus

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