Common Buzzard (Buteo Buteo) - One of our commonest raptors and often mistaken for the Golden Eagle, it has been dubbed the ‘Tourist’s Eagle’. A Common Buzzard is a variable mixture of brown and white plumage, sometimes with a brown breast band or if not usually brown streaking. It will soar in circles, flapping its wings between glides, often uttering a loud shriek that carries far. Its flight can sometimes be fast and when there’s a strong wind current it often looks less assured and seems to be taken on for the ride compared to the slow controlled flight of a Golden Eagle.
Common Kestrel (Falco Tinnunculus) - A small raptor of open country, Kestrels are reddish brown on the back and spotted. In flight they appear cruciform or cross shaped owing to their broad wings and long thin tail. Kestrels hover frequently as they search for voles and fly with looser wingbeats than other falcons. Flies continuously and doesn’t glide as much as a Sparrowhawk with which it could be confused.
Red Kite (Milvus Milvus) - A reddish bird with a bright rufous tail that is deeply forked like that of a kite. Adults have greyish faces with yellow bills. Flies buoyantly and leisurely with the gait of a crow and its tail constantly twists in mid-air like a rudder. Has white ‘windows’ on the underwings. The wingtips look bent at the carpal joints, a jointed area just below the wingtips.
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter Nisus) - A small, swift raptor of woodland. Males are slaty grey on the back with a rufous wash over a white breast. Females are larger, darker grey on the back and have no rufous wash, just heavy black barring over a white breast. They have yellow eyes as opposed to the orange found in a Goshawk. In flight they look small, long tailed and can flap and glide with ease. It hunts small birds like Blue Tits in woodland, swooping in suddenly to seize unwary prey.
Eurasian Goshawk (Accipiter Gentilis) - A larger, stocky raptor about the same size as a Common Buzzard. They are a dark slaty grey on the back, with a white chest barred black, the eyes are orange or red not yellow as in Sparrowhawk. They are broad chested, broad hipped with baggy ‘trousers’, dense areas of feathers on the legs. Females are larger than males. It likes to hunt in woodland, especially coniferous woodland and will take larger prey than Sparrowhawks, such as Woodpigeons and Woodcocks. A notorious beginner’s bird because although it’s recognisable when seen well, often raptors are silhouetted against the sky and these features can easily go unseen and remind one of a Common Buzzard.
Merlin (Falco Columbarius) - Britain’s smallest raptor, only about the size of a thrush. Males are slaty greyish-blue on the back with an orange hue on the breast and females are brown with white breasts with thick brown streaking. The breast itself is thick which is a contrast to its pointed wings. Has quick wingbeats in flight, sometimes gliding briefly and sometimes with a similar bounce to a thrush. They live in mountains and moorland and will hunt small birds like Meadow Pipits and Wheatears.
Peregrine (Falco Peregrinus) - The fastest bird of prey in the world capable of flying at two hundred miles per hour, the Peregrine has long broad pointed wings and an aerodynamic profile that helps it go at that speed. In flight it has pronounced carpal joints. This gives the Peregrine a distinctly jointed look in flight. It has a slaty greyish blue back with a white breast barred black and has a relatively short tail. The bill is grey and yellow. Can prey on things like wading birds, pigeons and small ducks.
Hen Harrier (Circus Cyaneus) - A bird of moorland, males are grey with a white belly and black wing tips. Females are larger and streaky brown. Hen Harriers are not territorial and can live in denser numbers than other raptor species. They have disc shaped faces like those of owls, which act like sound dishes that help them find their prey of voles, small birds and some larger ones like Red Grouse.
Marsh Harrier (Circus Aeruginosus) - A brown bird bird of marshland and reedbed habitats. The male has a whitish head with dense brown streaking. The underside when seen in flight is a pale greyish brown, with prominent black wingtips. Thus appears tricoloured. The female is browner with a brown wedge connected from the face to the body. Juveniles have the same feature but the head is yellower. Holds its wing in a shallow ‘V’ gliding with the ‘arm’ raised level to the ‘hand’.
Western Osprey (Pandion Haliaetus) - One of our signature raptors of the Scottish Highlands, Ospreys are brown and white birds with long wings and scaly feet, which are perfect for getting a grip on their prey of fish, especially Brown Trout and Pike. The female is larger than the male. They looked long-winged when they fly and can flap alternately between glides. These migrate to Africa in the winter and their young, once fledged will follow them.
Golden Eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos) - A large brown raptor with a yellow bill and yellow eyes. It is named for the pale brown area on the back of its head that sometimes makes it look golden. Juveniles have larger white wing patches on the underside. Has a long tail which is about the same width as its wings. Soars very stably in the sky and doesn’t perch on telephone wires like the Common Buzzard. A shy bird that breeds in the Scottish Highlands and some of the Western Isles, it hunts Mountain Hares, Red Grouse and can take Pine Martens if given the chance. The Golden Eagles in Britain are usually silent, but if they do call it’s often in flight, a whistling ‘kuh’ that’s repeated multiple times, more often heard in Europe and elsewhere. Their silence in Britain is a response to their persecution in earlier centuries. Those that were more vocal had a chance of being discovered and killed, and those that weren’t had a better chance of survival.
White Tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus Albicilla) - Britain’s and indeed Europe’s largest raptor. The White Tailed Eagle or Sea Eagle as it’s often called is a brown bird with a thick yellow bill. Its white tail is very short and fan shaped. It is related to the familiar Bald Eagle in North America. It can hunt fish, swooping in to catch them like an Osprey. Once widespread across Britain it became extinct in 1918, then in the 1970s birds were introduced to islands in the Hebrides such as Rum and Eigg, and also Fife in mainland Scotland.
If you would like a chance to see any of these raptor species head over to our Day Guiding Page at: http://bit.ly/sw_DG