Birds of Prey in the UK (Complete Guide)

Birds of prey, or raptors, are carnivorous birds that hunt and kill prey using a combination of their keen senses, strong talons and sharp, hooked beaks. Ranging from the minuscule falconet to the colossal Andean condor, birds of prey have ruled the skies since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Buzzards, falcons, vultures, hawks, kites, eagles, harriers, owls and osprey are all examples of birds of prey. The Secretary Bird and Seriemas are also birds of prey but are considered to be somewhat outliers of the main groups.

The UK is home to some 15 species of birds of prey, covering every group aside from vultures.

From the epic Golden and White-Tailed eagle to the mighty Merlin, this is a guide to birds of prey in the UK.

The Most Common Birds of Prey in the UK

The British birds of prey below are generally the most likely ones you're going to spot in the UK (location dependant).

Buzzard

Buteo buteo

Buzzard
Buzzard in flight

Common Buzzard in flight

Common buzzard back

Common Buzzard

Common buzzard

Common Buzzard with prey

Buzzard close up

Buzzard close up

Buzzards fighting

Two buzzards fighting

Length:

51cm to 57cm

Wingspan:

113cm to 128cm

Weight:

550g to 1.3kg

Seen :

Year-round

Andrew Harrop, XC521622. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/521622.

Common Buzzard

The Common buzzard is the UK’s most abundant bird of prey. While they’re most common in Wales, Scotland, the Lake District, South West England and much of Northern Ireland, the Common buzzard now inhabits practically every part of the UK.

The Common buzzard lives mainly in dense woodland, scrub, moorland, farmland and rural villages, but they’re now even seen in Glasgow and other Scottish cities.

Buzzards are a success story in the UK, as they were all but extinct in the 1900s, with fewer than 1,000 pairs remaining. Today, there are more than 100,000 pairs, and they’re among the few birds of prey in the UK whose numbers are continually increasing.

Appearance

Common buzzards are large, measuring around 40 to 60cm long with a wingspan of 113 to 128cm, and are typically brown with white undersides. However, their appearance varies in what are called ‘morphs’ - some are light, almost white, whereas others are black or even reddish.

Red Kite

Milvus milvus

Red kite
Red kite 2
Red kite 1
Red kite 4
Red kite 3

Length:

60cm to 66cm

Wingspan:

175cm to 195cm

Weight:

800g to 1.3kg

Seen :

Year-round

Red Kite call

Simon Elliott, XC591286. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/591286.

Red Kite

Red kites are the UK’s largest common birds of prey, with an impressive wingspan of 175 to 185cm. Famed for their graceful hovering flight and playful and gregarious nature, Red kites are a conservation success story.

In much of the 20th century, Red kites were heavily persecuted for their eggs and became confined to small parts of Wales. They were reintroduced to the Chilterns, East Midlands, Yorkshire and other parts of northern England throughout the 1990s and are now thriving across virtually all of the UK. For example, in 1990, 13 Red kites were released in the Chilterns, and as of 2020, there are probably some 4,000 breeding pairs. These graceful, imposing raptors are now a common sight over both urban and rural areas.

Appearance

Red kites are exceptionally large birds, measuring some 60 to 70cm on average with a wingspan of 175 to 185cm, and have a reddish-brown body and broad, white-tipped wings and large forked tail.

They have a white-brown head and a large, hooked bill. While they do hunt small mammals, Red kites generally prefer to take carrion by hovering and swooping in to grasp it with their talons. Seeing groups of 5 to 20 Red kites encircling carrion is not uncommon.

Sparrowhawk

Accipiter nisus

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk 1
Sparrowhawk 3
Sparrowhawk 2
Sparrowhawk close up

Length:

28cm to 38cm

Wingspan:

55cm to 70cm

Weight:

110g to 342g

Seen :

Year-round

Sparrowhawk call

Simon Elliott, XC589041. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/589041.

Sparrowhawk

Small but deadly, the Sparrowhawk is a small to medium-sized bird of prey from the Accipiter family. The female is as much as 25% bigger than the male - the size difference is so significant that females have a more diverse diet than males as they’re able to catch a wider range of prey.

Sparrowhawk numbers crashed during the late 20th century, mainly due to poisoning from organochlorine pesticides. Their numbers have increased dramatically, and they’re found all throughout the UK except the Scottish Highlands, but recent surveys have shown that Sparrowhawk populations are starting to fall again. For conservationists, boosting the Sparrowhawk population is a risky endeavour as they’re very efficient at hunting and killing small birds and negatively impact songbird populations.

Appearance

Measuring some 30 to 45cm and with a wingspan of some 50 to 80cm, Sparrowhawks have short, broad wings and a long tail, which aid them in manoeuvring tight corners around trees and hedgerows. They’re mostly slate-grey with light brown upperparts and wings, which also have a red-orange tinge around the breast and body. Sparrowhawks have large, bright yellow-orange eyes.

Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

Kestrel
Kestrel 1

Common Kestrel perched

Kestrel close up

Close up of a Kestrel

Kestrel in flight

Kestrel in flight

Length:

32cm to 35cm

Wingspan:

71cm to 80cm

Weight:

156g to 252g

Seen :

Year-round

Common Kestrel Call

Simon Elliott, XC590630. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/590630.

Kestrel

Common kestrels are one of the UK’s most common birds of prey from the Falcon family. Though common throughout much of the country, Common kestrels are more common in rural woodland, farmland and moorland. They’re commonly seen hovering from a height of 20 to 30m before rapidly swooping in to catch their prey.

Appearance

Measuring just 32 to 39cm with wingspans of around 65 to 80cm, Common kestrels are predominantly light-brown with dark spots. Males often have a grey-blue head, but female Kestrels are all usually brown. Their wings and tails are long, but they’re quite compact compared to other birds of prey.

Hobby

Falco subbuteo

Hobby
Hobby 3

Hobby showing white cheek and throat patches with black moustache

Hobby catching insects

Hobby hunting dragonfly

Hobby in flight

A Hobby flying through the air hunting for prey

Hobby juvenile

Juvenile Hobby

Length:

28cm to 36cm

Wingspan:

70cm to 92cm

Weight:

131g to 340g

Seen :

Usually in the summer

Hobby call

David Darrell-Lambert, XC477060. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/477060.

Hobby

The Hobby, from the Falcon family, is the second smallest bird of prey in the UK. These are summer visitors to the UK, as they usually winter over in Africa. Extremely fast and agile, Hobbies prefer open habitats and consume a large proportion of invertebrates, particularly dragonflies. Though they breed across much of the UK, they’re most common in Wales and English moorlands.

Appearance

A small raptor that measures around 32 to 36cm in length with a wingspan of 75 to 88cm, Hobbies have a streaked white and brown breast with reddish thighs that look like ‘trousers’. Their wings are long and narrow, especially relative to their small size. This enables the Hobby to accelerate rapidly in flight - it’s one of the fastest birds in the UK.

Tawny Owl

Strix aluco

Tawny owl
Tawny owl portrait

Close up of a Tawny Owl face

Tawny owl owlets

Tawny Owl Owlets

Tawny owl in flight

Tawny Owl in flight

Tawny owl 1

Tawny Owl perched on a rock

Tawny owl flying

Tawny Owl flying

Tawny owl with mouse

Tawny Owl with captured mouse in beak

Tawny owl chick in nest

Tawny Owl owlet in nest in a tree

Tawny owl eggs

Tawny Owl eggs

Tawny owl landing

Tawny Owl landing on a tree branch

Tawny owl in winter

Tawny Owl perched during the winter

Tawny owl perched on tree

Tawny Owl perched on a tree

Length:

37cm to 39cm

Wingspan:

94cm to 104cm

Weight:

330g to 590g

Seen :

Year-round

Tawny Owl

The most common owl in the UK, the Tawny owl, is a dark-brown, well-camouflaged owl. Though widespread throughout much of England, Wales and Scotland (except the Highlands and Scottish islands), Tawny owls are absent from Northern Ireland.

Tawny owls are strictly nocturnal and you’re more likely to hear their characteristic low-pitched "hoot" than see them. Mice, voles and other small mammals are the dietary staple of Tawny owls in the UK and they’re expert nocturnal hunters, swooping and seizing their prey while barely making a sound.

Appearance

Measuring around 36 to 39cm and with a wingspan of 94 to 105cm, Tawny owls are brown and dark brown with pale underparts. Their feathers are soft, fluffy and downy, which helps them fly silently. Their heads are rounded, and they have large, dark eyes. Tawny owls are classically owl-like in appearance.

Barn Owl

Tyto alba

Barn owl
Barn owl in flight
Barn owl on post

Barn Owl on post

Young barn owl

Young Barn Owl

Length:

33cm to 39cm

Wingspan:

80cm to 95cm

Weight:

250g to 350g

Seen :

Year-round

James P, XC621140. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/621140.

Barn Owl

One of the most common and widely distributed owls in the world, the Barn owl is known for its heart-shaped face and sharp, beady eyes. These sedentary birds stay in the UK all year round and can be found everywhere apart from the Scottish Highlands.

Hunting primarily at dusk and dawn, Barn owls are almost silent during flight and have exceptional senses of sight and hearing. They have a piercing shrieking call which landed them the nickname ‘Demon owl’.

Appearance

Measuring around 30 to 40cm long with a wingspan of 80 to 95cm, Barn owls are medium-sized owls with long wings and a heart-shaped face. They’re pale grey/brown with shades of darker grey and hazel across their wings and necks. Wings are generally darker than the body.

Less Common Birds of Prey in the UK

Although some of these birds of prey can still regularly be seen, you're generally less likely to come across than the birds above.

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

Osprey
Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey 2

Osprey looking for fish

Osprey catching fish

Osprey catching fish

Juvenile osprey

Juvenile Osprey

Length:

52cm to 60cm

Wingspan:

145cm to 170cm

Weight:

1.2kg to 2kg

Seen :

March until September

Osprey call

Oscar Campbell, XC523461. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/523461.

Osprey

Though they live on practically every continent, Ospreys are rare in the UK. These piscivorous birds feed almost solely on fish which make up 99% of their diets.

Several biological adaptations make it much easier for Ospreys to catch their chosen prey. For example, Ospreys have reversible toes with sharp barbs that enable them to grasp slippery fish from the water.

There are around 250 breeding pairs of Ospreys in the UK, and they live mainly in Scotland and Cumbria. Rutland Water is also a well-known location for Ospreys too.

Appearance

Measuring around 50 to 67cm and with a wingspan of 155 to 180cm, Ospreys are large birds of prey. Their upper parts are brown, but their breasts and underparts are white, or white and brown. They have a dark-brown mask that stripes across the eye.

Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos

Golden eagle
Golden eagle flying 1

Golden Eagle in flight

Golden eagle 1
Golden eagle close

Golden Eagle close up - JoanneJean / Shutterstock.com

Golden eagle flying

Length:

75cm to 88cm

Wingspan:

204cm to 220cm

Weight:

2.8kg to 6.6kg

Seen :

Year-round

Male Call

Tero Linjama, XC341722. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/341722.

Golden Eagle

The Golden eagle eclipses most raptors in terms of sheer size and weight. Golden eagles live in Scotland, primarily in the Highlands and on the Scottish islands, but there are plans to reintroduce them in Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2016, there were an estimated 500 breeding pairs of Golden eagles in Scotland, and their populations are gradually climbing.

An impressive bird, the Golden eagle hunts medium and large mammals and birds, including rabbits, voles, ptarmigans and sometimes even small or baby deer.

Golden eagles mate for life and often hunt cooperatively in pairs. Though they can swoop from great heights at speeds exceeding 150mph, they prefer to hunt from fairly close to the ground, or even from a treetop perch. Some studies suggest that Golden eagles are faster than the Peregrine falcon, which is widely touted to be the world’s fastest bird and animal.

Appearance

These mighty eagles have wingspans exceeding 2m and are around 75 to 88cm long. Golden eagles are primarily darkish brown, but their neck and nape are more of a copper-gold, hence ‘Golden’ eagle. They have a white stripe across the tail and white patches towards the end of each wing. Their yellow feet are almost completely covered in feathers.

White-Tailed Eagle

Haliaeetus albicilla

White tailed eagle

Length:

70cm to 90cm

Wingspan:

200cm to 240cm

Weight:

3.5kg to 5.5kg

Seen :

Year-round

White-Tailed Eagle

The second of the two eagles that inhabit the UK. The White-Tailed eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world and is slightly bigger than the Golden eagle.

The White-Tailed eagle was extinct in the UK prior to the 1970s, but was reintroduced to Scotland from Norway. Their numbers are gradually climbing, and they’ve also been reintroduced to the Isle of Wight. These sea-faering eagles prey upon fish, animals and birds.

White-Tailed eagles are uncommon, and you’d be lucky to see one. There are only around 40 breeding pairs in Scotland and fewer in the south of England.

Appearance

Measuring 67 to 100cm in length and with a wingspan of 1.78 to 2.45m, White-Tailed eagles are mostly light to medium-brown with a pale head and broad, ‘fingered’ wings. As their name suggests, they do indeed sport a large white tail which makes them somewhat easy to identify from other similar eagles.

Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus

Marsh harrier

Length:

48cm to 56cm

Wingspan:

115cm to 130cm

Weight:

400g to 800g

Seen :

Year-round

Marsh Harrier

Marsh harriers are uncommon, with 70% of the UK population living in East Anglia. Once the UK’s least common raptor, their numbers are sharply rising, and there are now over 500 breeding pairs. Marsh harriers are subtle, swift and incisive hunters that target an array of small mammals, small and medium-sized birds, including moorhens, and amphibians like frogs.

Appearance

Measuring 48 to 56cm and with a wingspan of 115 to 130cm, Marsh harriers are compact raptors, though larger than other harriers. They’re primarily medium and dark-brown with a pale-brown head and greyish underparts.

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Hen harrier

Length:

44cm to 52cm

Wingspan:

100cm to 120cm

Weight:

300g to 600g

Seen :

Year-round

Hen Harrier

The Hen harrier is the UK’s most heavily persecuted bird because of its tendency to predate fowl, hence the name ‘Hen’ harrier. It’s been saved from near-extinction but remains confined to isolated areas of Scotland, particularly the Scottish islands, the Isle of Man and North Wales.

Appearance

Hen harriers are around 42 to 46cm long with a wingspan of approximately 1.0 to 1.1m. They’re mostly blue-grey with paler undersides. Hen harriers are slimmer than most harriers and have slim wings. The females are darker with a banded tail.

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus

Peregrine falcon
Peregrine falcon flying

Peregrine Falcon flying

Peregrine falcon close up

Close up of a Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon diving

Peregrine Falcons can reach speeds of up to 200 mph whilst diving

Length:

39cm to 50cm

Wingspan:

95cm to 115cm

Weight:

600g to 1.3kg

Seen :

Year-round

Peregrine Falcon Call

Sławomir Karpicki-Ignatowski, XC624604. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/624604.

Peregrine Falcon

Widely regarded as the fastest animal on the planet, the Peregrine falcon can dive at an incredible speed of 200mph. Its compact, slim and aerodynamic body has inspired aircraft design, and is especially impressive for allowing the bird to control flight in high winds and turbulent conditions.

Peregrine falcons are found primarily in Wales, southern Scotland and northwest England, but their numbers are slowly climbing throughout much of the UK. Feeding primarily on airborne birds such as pigeons and doves, songbirds, waterfowl and even corvids, the Peregrine falcon is one of the world's most spectacular and efficient aerial hunters.

Appearance

The Peregrine falcon measures 35 to 58cm in length and has a wingspan of 74 to 120cm. The female is notably larger than the male and has a more diverse diet as a result. They have a blueish to slate-grey back with mottled white and light-brown underparts. Their short beaks feature an underslung ‘moustache’, which is a small tuft of feathers.

Merlin

Falco columbarius

Merlin
Merlin 3

Close up of a Merlin

Merlin flying 1

Merlin in flight

Merlin female

Female Merlin

Merlin 2
Merlin 1
Merlin flying

Merlin in flight

Merlin nest

Nest and eggs of a Merlin

Length:

25cm to 30cm

Wingspan:

50cm to 62cm

Weight:

125g to 300g

Seen :

Year-round

Merlin call

Lars Edenius, XC484823. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/484823.

Merlin

The Merlin is a small but deadly bird from the Falcon family. It’s the UK's smallest bird of prey, and is the smallest falcon in the Northern Hemisphere. Found primarily in Scotland, Wales, and northwest England, particularly the Peak District, the UK Merlin population increases considerably in winter as they migrate here from northern Europe and Scandinavia.

The Merlin preys upon many small birds such as tits and finches, and mammals like voles and mice. It can take down prey considerably heavier than itself.

Appearance

The Merlin is barely bigger than a Blackbird, measuring around 24 to 35cm long with a wingspan of 50 to 73cm. Merlins are primarily blue/grey to black but have paler underparts. Their wings are broad, and they have a long square tail.

Short-Eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Short eared owl close up
Short eared owl

Close up of a Short-Eared Owl

Short eared owl flying

Short-Eared Owl in flight

Short eared owl perched

Perched Short-Eared Owl on a fence post

Short eared owl flying 1

Short-Eared Owl flying

Short eared owl chicks and nest

Nest of a Short-Eared Owl with chicks and eggs

Length:

34cm to 42cm

Wingspan:

90cm to 105cm

Weight:

260g to 350g

Seen :

Year-round

Female Short-Eared Owl call

Jarek Matusiak, XC552057. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/552057.

Short-Eared Owl Call

Karl-Birger Strann, XC443556. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/443556.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared owls are one of the UK’s less common owls, primarily inhabiting Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland. Resident numbers increase during the winter as birds from Russia and Scandinavia head to winter in the UK.

They mainly hunt during the day, and they’re often spotted flying stealthily over open countryside. There are just 2,000 breeding pairs of Short-eared owls in the UK.

Appearance

Short-eared owls are relatively small, measuring 34 to 42cm long and have a wingspan of around 90 to 105cm. The Short-eared owl has short, stubby ears, but these are not usually obvious during flight. They’re predominantly dark brown with paler undersides.

Long-Eared Owl

Asio otus

Long eared owl

Length:

35cm to 37cm

Wingspan:

84cm to 95cm

Weight:

210g to 370g

Seen :

Year-round

Long-Eared Owl

Long-eared owls are thought to be relatively abundant across the UK, but estimating their population is a challenge due to their highly secretive nature. In contrast to the Short-eared owl, Long-eared owls are strictly nocturnal and rarely make themselves seen. There are probably a similar number of Long-eared owls in the UK as Short-eared owls.

Appearance

Long-eared owls are similar in size to Short-eared owls, measuring around 35 to 37cm long with a wingspan of 92 to 95cm. However, their long ears are their most striking feature - these are called ear tufts and are shared by many owls, most prolifically the Great Horned owl. Long-eared owls are dark and light brown with paler undersides and have striking yellow eyes.

Little Owl

Athene noctua

Little owl

Length:

21cm to 23cm

Wingspan:

54cm to 58cm

Weight:

140g to 220g

Seen :

Year-round

Simon Elliott, XC611865. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/611865.

Little Owl

The Little owl was introduced to the UK in the 18th century and is one of the world’s smallest owls. Some 40 Little owls were released between 1874 and 1880, and their numbers have slowly but surely increased.

They’re not much larger than a thrush, but their chunky form-factor makes them unmistakably owlish. Though concentrated in west Wales and East Anglia, there are an estimated 5,000 or so breeding pairs of Little owls littered across isolated areas in the UK.

Appearance

Little owls are small, measuring around 20 to 22cm with a wingspan of 55cm or so. They’re typically owlish in shape and colour, with dark and light mottled plumage. Little owls have large heads for their size and white ‘eyebrows’.

European Honey Buzzard

Pernis apivorus

European honey buzzard
European honey buzzard portrait

Portrait of European Honey Buzzard

European honey buzzard from below

European Honey Buzzard in flight, from below

European honey buzzard feeding

European Honey Buzzard feeding on prey

European honey buzzard 2

European Honey Buzzard in flight from behind

European honey buzzard 4

European Honey Buzzard perched on a branch

European honey buzzard nest with chicks

European Honey Buzzard nest with chicks

Length:

52cm to 60cm

Wingspan:

135cm to 150cm

Weight:

600g to 1.1kg

Seen :

May to mid-August

European Honey Buzzard Call

Olivier SWIFT, XC502410. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/502410.

Honey Buzzard

There is a lesser-known but perhaps more fascinating buzzard in the UK besides the Common buzzard - the Honey buzzard. The Honey buzzard is peculiar amongst all raptors as it’s a specialist feeder that consumes the grubs and larvae of bees and wasps. It does also hunt small animal and birds.

The UK’s Honey buzzard population is small - around just 100 pairs - but they can be found in Scotland, Wales and the north and south of England.

Appearance

Honey buzzards look like Common buzzards, but have longer wings (around 155cm), a longer tail and a much slimmer neck.

Goshawk

Accipiter gentilis

Goshawk

Length:

48cm to 62cm

Wingspan:

135cm to 165cm

Weight:

600g to 2kg

Seen :

Year-round

Goshawk

The goshawk is a large member of the hawk family and can be comparable size-wise to a buzzard, although goshawks are ever so slightly smaller.

There is only a small breeding population of goshawks here in the UK, thought to be anywhere from 280 to 430 pairs, so they're quite uncommon to see.

Goshawks can be found scattered across parts of Scotland, England (mainly Northern parts) and in Wales.

Appearance

They have white eyebrows, red eyes and a relatively menacing expression when you see them up close. The large wings mean they are capable of reaching high speeds, which is useful when hunting. Goshawks are effectively able to catch prey in flight due to their long talons and legs.

Females are generally much larger than the males.

Rough-Legged Buzzard

Buteo lagopus

Rough legged buzzard

Length:

50cm to 60cm

Wingspan:

120cm to 150cm

Weight:

600g to 1.3kg

Seen :

October to April

Rough-Legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzards are pretty rare to spot across the UK, as we usually only get a handful of these birds visit during the winter and they're not resident, like most of the birds of prey on this list.

They are fairly similar in size and appearance to common buzzards, however, when spotted in flight, you can often notice that, unlike common buzzards, they'll 'hang' in the sky more, almost in a hovering fashion.

Rough-legged buzzards have legs with a thick covering of feathers, which is where they gained their name from. The wings are also generally longer than the common buzzard, and the head is much paler.

Montagu's Harrier

Circus pygargus

Montagus harrier
Male montagus harrier

Close up of a male Montagu's Harrier

Montagus harrier 1

Close up of a perched Montagu's Harrier

Montagus harrier in flight

Montagu's Harrier in flight

Female montagus harrier

Female Montagu's Harrier perched on a post

Montague harrier with lizard

Montagu's Harrier hunting a lizard

Montagus harrier nest with chicks

Montagu's Harrier chicks in nest

Montagus harrier calling

Montagu's Harrier calling

Montagus harrier searching for food

Montagu's Harrier searching for prey

Length:

43cm to 47cm

Wingspan:

100cm to 120cm

Weight:

225g to 450g

Seen :

May and September

Montagu's Harier

If you happen to spot a Montagu's Harrier in the UK, you should certainly feel very lucky! Not only are these magnificent birds, but it's estimated that we only get around 5 breeding pairs to visit each year.

Thes best time to see these birds are usually between May and September, usually on both the south and eastern coasts of England.

After breeding, Montagu's Harrier set off on migration to Africa for the winter.

What are birds of prey?

Birds of prey, also called raptors, are carnivorous birds that hunt and kill vertebrate prey such as birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians. Many birds of prey do also feed on invertebrates such as arthropods and insects, but virtually every bird of prey in the world eats nearly 100% meat.

As such, birds of prey are typically fast and strong and are equipped with superior senses of sight and hearing. In addition, they have strong, sharp talons and bills that are specially designed for meat. Some birds of prey have picked up special adaptations, such as owls’ ability to fly near-silently so as not to disturb their prey in the dead of night.

Though it’s tempting to focus on large birds of prey such as eagles, they come in many different shapes and sizes, ranging from the Andean condor, with a wingspan of some 3.3m, to the Black-thighed falconet with a wingspan of just 30cm.

What is the most common bird of prey in the UK?

The most common bird of prey in the UK is the Common buzzard, with over 70,000 to 100,000 breeding across virtually every region of the UK.

Populations of birds of prey vary hugely across the UK; Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Red Kites are also considered common.

What is the largest bird of prey in the UK?

The largest bird of prey in the UK is the White-Tailed eagle, followed closely by the Golden eagle.

White-Tailed eagles measure around 67 to 100cm in length and have a wingspan of 1.78 to 2.45m - they’re the fourth largest eagle in the world. The largest common bird of prey in the UK is the Red Kite, with a wingspan of some 175cm.

What is the smallest bird of prey in the UK?

The Merlin is widely touted as the UK’s smallest bird of prey, but the Little owl is an often-overlooked contender.

The Merlin measures 24 to 35cm long with a wingspan of 50 to 73cm, whereas the Little owl measures 20 to 22cm with a wingspan of 55cm. So it may well be that the Merlin is not the smallest bird of prey in the UK after all. However, it’s worth noting that the Little owl was introduced in the UK in the 18th century, whereas the Merlin is an endemic resident.

How many birds of prey are there in the UK?

There are around 15 species of birds of prey in the UK, but it’s tough to nail down an exact figure as some species arrive here during winter from Scandinavia and North Europe, whereas others leave to southern Europe, Africa and Asia.

Are birds of prey under threat?

The numbers of birds of prey in the UK are higher than they have been in around a century. In the 18th and 19th centuries particularly, birds of prey were heavily persecuted. This steadily changed around the 19th century.

Then, widespread herbicide use caused another decline in birds of prey numbers in the late 20th century. Once destructive herbicides were outlawed, raptor numbers in the UK have climbed. Reintroduction and conservation projects have also helped swell numbers. However, this is a constant work in progress and many birds of prey still face threats today.

Expert Q + A

Ask a question

Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.

Include your email address to get a message when this question is answered.

You may also like

Get the good stuff

Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox

© 2022 - Bird Fact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.