Birds of prey are large with hooked beaks and sharp talons, and use their excellent eyesight (they can see 3 different fields at once) to hunt birds and small mammals. These include:
- Sparrowhawks (orange eyes) & goshawks (red eyes) are common
- Harriers fly quite low in the air, and there are many varieties
- Buzzards are common, you often see them hovering above in a v-shape
- Falcons have red-brown flecks, and are often seen hovering above roads. Peregrone falcons are blue-grey and have a black head with a feathers that resemble a ‘handlebar moustache’. They are the fastest creature on earth: (over 200mph).
- Red kites are reddish-brown with forked tails who scavenge together
- Kestrels are one of our smallest birds of prey.
- Owls are probably the most recognised, short-eared owls often hunt during the day.
- Eagles are sometimes seen in Cumbria. You’ll only see the large white-tailed eagles and golden eagles in Scotland.
How to Help Birds of Prey
You would think that these magnificent birds would be okay with no natural predators. But of course, humans have messed everything up. Most of this info is edited from research at the site of Barn Owl Trust, but the info presumably applies to all birds of prey, except species-specific information. If you have a barn, rescue owls or work in local town planning, roads or energy, visit their site for detailed information and handbooks. Also read how to protect our hooting owls.
- Lack of habitat is a major concern, especially as many people buy cheap nestboxes that do more harm than good (owls don’t nest like other birds, so if you don’t build or buy the right one, they may lay eggs on damp floor, which means babies could die). Barn Owl Trust has important tips, to ensure you choose the right design for nest boxes, which must be sited properly (not near traffic) and sited well to avoid owlets falling out. It’s very important to read info on nestboxes (cleaning etc) otherwise it could do more harm than good. The natural habitats for owls are hollow trees & barns.
- Owls eat rats (garden writer Alys Fowler says ‘If I am to love owls, then I must learn to live with rats’). By leaving rats alone and letting owls and foxes eat them (or terrier ‘ratting dogs’), this leads to nature in balance and quick humane deaths, rather than rat poisons, which kill owls in their thousands.
- Around 5000 owls are killed on UK roads each year, mostly because they fly too low. Barn Owl Trust has a free guide to encourage town planners to build a 2m screen of trees and shrubs, which would force hunting birds to fly higher, so avoid cars.
- Many birds of prey drown in open water. Use secure water butts like Even Greener or The Original Water Butt Co (small spaces). For deeper liquid (including cattle troughs), you can make a float (watch the video). Floating a piece of wood does not work, they say.
- Barn owls often are electrocuted by flying into overhead wires. Ideally they want the cables insulated, and bird diverters may also help (used to stop swans flying into overhead cables).
- Owls don’t store fat in cold weather (nor have waterproof feathers) so can’t hunt well, if they get wet. So climate change is causing extreme weather (floods, heatwaves etc) that not only makes life difficult, but is also impacting field voles & common shrews, two species that form part of their diet.
- Fracking (extracting shale gas) may be loved by Trump, but it’s awful for wildlife. Not only is it dangerous and polluting (and can cause cancer to nearby people) but it’s noisy and affects owl habitats.
- Large ground-mounted solar panels prevent little collision risk, but the grass below and around them should be allowed to grow to encourage foraging (Barn Owl Trust suggest rough tussocky grassland with a litter-layer. Most in the UK have bare ground. Solar power towers are not good, but rarely used in the UK. Wind turbines rarely kill owls (but they do sometimes kill other birds and bats, although modern bladeless turbines are becoming more commonplace).If you do find an injured or dead owl, you can report to Barn Owl Trust.
How to Rescue Birds of Prey
Don’t just pick them up. You’ll need thick gloves to avoid getting injured. Although your local wildlife shelter can provide some advice, for birds of prey it’s best to call the specialists:
- Raptor Rescue
- Raptor Foundation
- Phoenix Bird of Prey Rescue
- Corio Raptor Rescue & Rehabilitation
- Barn Owl Trust
- Help Wildlife has useful info on what to do, if you find an injured bird of prey or baby bird of prey.
Keep Pets Safe Near Birds of Prey
The best way to keep small pets safe is to stay with them at all times, offer cover for outdoor pets to run to, exercise pets together and feed pets indoors. The Spruce has useful tips on how to keep pets safe from birds of prey. In the USA, they have more issues, as there are much larger birds of prey and open land. There are inventions that people can put on the back of dogs to stop talons digging in, but they have mixed reviews, as some dogs find them uncomfortable, and they don’t protect the head.
Queen of the Sky is a compact little book (above are matching cards), telling the amazing story of a peregrine falcon rescued from the sea, off the remote coast of North Wales. Jackie Morris (illustrator) tells the story of how her friend Ffion Rees nursed the falcon back to life, and back to the wild. And the bond which grew between the two.
Get to Know the Peregrine
Peregrines are one of our largest birds of prey, often found near the sea or the uplands. They almost went extinct back in the 1960s due to pesticides, and are now gradually recovering, although some still illegally kill them, and sometimes their eggs are taken to use in falconry. They are a listed species Schedule 1 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act (which means it’s illegal to intentionally disturb or wreck an active nest).
They mostly live on wading ducks and pigeons, and often hunt the East Coast marshland. A classic book observing these books on the flat marshes of the Essex coast is The Peregrine (also as an audio book), first published in 1967. Ted Hughes cited it as one of the most important books on nature writing ever. JA Baker spent long winters looking and writing of these winged visitors from the uplands, that spend winter hunting huge flocks of pigeons and waders, that share their desolate landscape. Republished to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first publication, the new version features an afterword by one of the book’s great admirers, Robert Macfarlane.