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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).

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Buteo buteo

Common buzzard bird

Close up of a Buzzard perched on a branch

Buzzard in flight

Common Buzzard in flight

Buteo buteo

Buzzards are the most common bird of prey in the UK

Common buzzard back

Common Buzzard

Common buzzard

Common Buzzard with prey

Buzzard habitat

Buzzards can be found across a range of habitats, but are more common in farmland, woodland and moorland

Buzzard close up

Close up portrait of a Buzzard

Buzzard landing

Buzzard coming in to land

Buzzards fighting

A pair of buzzards fighting

Buzzard on ground

Close up of a Buzzard on the grass


51cm to 57cm


113cm to 128cm


550g to 1.3kg

Seen :


Andrew Harrop, XC521622. Accessible at

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.


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

Close up of a Red Kite perched on the ground

Red kite in flight below

Red Kite in flight, from below

Red kite 1

Portrait of a Red Kite

Red kite landing

Red Kite landing on a rock

Red kite 4

Close up of a Red Kite in flight

Perched red kite bird

Red Kite perched on the ground, in the sun

Juvenile red kites

A pair of juvenile Red Kites

Red kite 3

Red Kite perched, photo taken from behind

Red kite calling

Red Kite calling loudly


60cm to 72cm


143cm to 195cm


750g to 1.6kg

Seen :


Red Kite call

Simon Elliott, XC591286. Accessible at

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.


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.


Accipiter nisus

Juvenile sparrowhawk

Close up on a juvenile Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk attack

Sparrowhawk about to launch an attack on prey

Sparrowhawk habitat

Sparrowhawks are mainly found in woodland

Sparrowhawk 2

Sparrowhawk taking off with tail fanned

Sparrowhawk portrait

Close up head portrait of a Sparrowhawk

Nesting sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk at the nest

Sparrowhawk close up

Like most other birds, Sparrowhawks are highly territorial during the breeding season, and can be very aggressive to other birds

Sparrowhawk 1

Close up of a perched Sparrowhawk


28cm to 40cm


55cm to 70cm


105g to 350g

Seen :


Sparrowhawk call

Simon Elliott, XC589041. Accessible at


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.


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.


Falco tinnunculus

Kestrel in flight

Kestrel in flight on the lookout for prey

Male kestrel hunting

Male Kestrel hovering over prey

Kestrel close up

Close portrait up of a Kestrel

Kestrel in flight

Kestrel in flight from below

Kestrel perched in tree

Common Kestrel perched on a branch, in an upright posture

Eurasian kestrel female

Eurasian Kestrel (female)

Female kestrels fighting

Two female Kestrels fighting over territory

Male kestrel eating

Male Kestrel eating a mouse


32cm to 35cm


71cm to 80cm


136g to 314g

Seen :


Common Kestrel Call

Simon Elliott, XC590630. Accessible at


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.


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.


Falco subbuteo

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


28cm to 36cm


70cm to 92cm


131g to 340g

Seen :

Usually in the summer

Hobby call

David Darrell-Lambert, XC477060. Accessible at


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.


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


37cm to 39cm


94cm to 104cm


330g to 590g

Seen :


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.


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 appearance

Close up of a Barn owl perched on a post

Barn owl in flight

Close up of a Barn Owl in flight

Ban owl hunting over field

Barn owl flying low over a field, on the lookout for prey

Barn owl on post

Barn Owl perched on a wooden post

Barn owl landing

Barn owl coming in to land

Barn owl on fence post

Fence posts are one of the most common places to spot Barn owls

Young barn owl

Young Barn Owl

Barn owl pair

A pair of Barn owls perched on a branch

Barn owl hunting first light

A Barn owl hunting at first light


29cm to 44cm


80cm to 95cm


187g to 700g

Seen :


James P, XC621140. Accessible at

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’.


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.


Pandion haliaetus

Osprey in flight

Osprey in flight

Osprey 2

Osprey looking for fish

Osprey catching fish

Osprey catching fish

Juvenile osprey

Juvenile Osprey


52cm to 60cm


145cm to 170cm


1.2kg to 2kg

Seen :

March until September

Osprey call

Oscar Campbell, XC523461. Accessible at


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.


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 appearance

Close up of a Golden Eagle

Juvenile golden eagle

Juvenile Golden Eagle in flight

Golden eagle flying 1

Golden Eagle in flight

Golden eagle on ground

Golden Eagle on the ground

Golden eagle 1

Perched Golden Eagle on the lookout for prey

Golden eagle landing

Golden Eagle coming in to land, in its natural habitat

Golden eagle in flight

Golden Eagle flying through the forest

Nest golden eagle

The nest of a Golden Eagle, with adult protecting young chick

Golden eagle fight

A pair of Golden Eagles fighting in the snow

Golden eagle flying

Golden Eagle soaring through the sky, in flight with wings spread wide


70cm to 99cm


185cm to 220cm


2.4kg to 6.5kg

Seen :


Male Call

Tero Linjama, XC341722. Accessible at

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.


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 1
White tailed eagle

White-tailed Eagle perching on a branch

White tailed eagle hunting

White-tailed Eagle hunting for fish

White tailed eagle calling out

White-tailed Eagle on a riverbank screeching

White tailed eagle feeding on fish

White-tailed Eagle feeding on a fish

White tailed eagle in flight with caught fish

White-tailed Eagle in-flight with misty hills in the background

White tailed eagle in natural habitat

White-tailed Eagle in its natural habitat

White tailed eagle portrait

Portrait of a White-tailed Eagle

White tailed eagles fighting

Pair of White-tailed Eagles in battle

White tailed eagle with prey

White-tailed Eagle in-flight over a lake after catching its prey


74cm to 92cm


193cm to 244cm


3.1kg to 6.9kg

Seen :


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.


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
Marsh harrier hunting

Marsh Harrier hunting for prey

Female marsh harrier hunting

Female Marsh Harrier hunting for prey

Marsh harrier habitat

True to their name, Marsh Harriers are mainly found in marshes and areas with reedbeds

Perched marsh harrier

Close up of a perched Marsh Harrier

Marsh harrier in flight below

Marsh Harrier in flight, pictured from below

Fighting marsh harriers

A pair of fighting Marsh Harriers

Western marsh harrier

Western Marsh Harrier


43cm to 54cm


115cm to 145cm


405g to 960g

Seen :


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.


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
Female hen harrier flying

Female Hen Harrier in flight

Hen harrier hunting

Hen Harrier hunting for prey

Hen harrier habitat

Hen Harrier in its natural habitat

Hen harrier flight below

Hen harrier in flight from below

Hen harrier flying dunes

Hen Harrier flying through the dunes in search of food

Hen harrier flight behind

Hen Harrier looking for prey on the meadow, pictured from behind

Hen harrier flying

Hen Harriers are most often seen quartering low over open country in search of food

Hen harrier flying male

Male and female Hen harriers are easy to tell apart, as males appear grey and white, whereas females are brown


42cm to 52cm


100cm to 120cm


300g to 700g

Seen :


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.


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 taking off to hunt for prey

Peregrine Falcon taking-off from a branch to hunt

Peregrine falcon calling to warn of intruders

Peregrine Falcon calling to warn off intruders

Pair of peregrine falcons feeding on prey

Pair of Peregrine Falcons feeding in natural habitat

Juvenile peregrine falcon in flight

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon in-flight over coastal area

Peregrine falcon perching on top of fallen tree

Peregrine Falcon perched on top of a fallen tree

Peregrine falcon defending nest site

Peregrine Falcon defending its nest site

Peregrine falcon in flight hunting

Peregrine Falcon in-flight hunting for prey


34cm to 58cm


74cm to 120cm


400g to 1.5kg

Seen :


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.


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.


Falco columbarius

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


25cm to 30cm


50cm to 62cm


125g to 300g

Seen :


Merlin call

Lars Edenius, XC484823. Accessible at


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.


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


34cm to 42cm


90cm to 105cm


260g to 350g

Seen :


Female Short-Eared Owl call

Jarek Matusiak, XC552057. Accessible at

Short-Eared Owl Call

Karl-Birger Strann, XC443556. Accessible at

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.


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
Long eared owl identification

Close up of a Long-eared Owl

Adult and juvenile long eared owl

Adult and young juvenile Long-eared owl in a tree

Long eared owl size

Long-eared Owls are slightly larger than Barn owls

Long eared owl hunting

Long-eared Owl on the hunt for prey

Long eared owl habitat

Long-eared owls are usually spotted in mixed or coniferous woodlands

Long eared owl perched

Long-eared owl perched in the forest

Long eared owl in flight

Long-eared Owl in flight

Hidden long eared owl

Long-eared Owl peeking from behind the tree


35cm to 40cm


90cm to 100cm


220g to 435g

Seen :


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.


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
Little owl identification

Close up of a Little Owl on a post

Little owl pair

A pair of Little Owls

Little owl diet

Perched Little Owl with a worm in its beak

Little owl in flight

Little Owl in flight

Little owl peeking out of tree

Little Owl peering out of a tree

Little owl habitat

Little Owl in its natural habitat

Little owl chicks in nest

Three Little Owl chicks looking out of the nesting cavity

Little owl feeding on insect

Little owl feeding on an insect

Little owl under roof

Little Owl perched under a roof


21cm to 23cm


54cm to 58cm


140g to 220g

Seen :


Simon Elliott, XC611865. Accessible at

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.


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


52cm to 60cm


135cm to 150cm


600g to 1.1kg

Seen :

May to mid-August

European Honey Buzzard Call

Olivier SWIFT, XC502410. Accessible at

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.


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


Accipiter gentilis

Juvenile goshawk

Juvenile Goshawk

Goshawk hunting

Goshawk hunting for prey

Goshawk in flight

Northern goshawk in flight through the forest

Perched northern goshawk

Close up of a Goshawk perched on a stump

Northern goshawk hunting

Northern goshawk hunting for prey in the woodlands

Nesting goshawk

Nesting Goshawk with young white fluffy chicks inside

Goshawk fighting

Goshawk (background) fighting a Buzzard

Goshawk in flight below

Goshawk in flight, from below


48cm to 62cm


135cm to 165cm


600g to 2kg

Seen :



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.


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 Hawk

Buteo lagopus

Rough legged hawk
Rough legged hawk standing on ground

Rough-legged Hawk standing on the ground in the lowlands

Rough legged hawk light morph in flight

Rough-legged Hawk, light morph, in-flight

Rough legged hawk close up

Close up of a Rough-legged Hawk mewing

Rough legged hawk hunting

Rough-legged Hawk with prey

Rough legged hawk under parts

Rough-legged Hawk in-flight

Rough legged hawk standing in natural habitat

Rough-legged Hawk standing in its natural habitat

Rough legged hawk in flight

Rough-legged Hawk in-flight

Rough legged hawks in conflict

Two Rough-legged Hawks in conflict

Rough legged hawk standing in purple heather

Rough-legged Hawk standing in purple heather


50cm to 60cm


120cm to 150cm


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


43cm to 47cm


100cm to 120cm


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 second largest bird of prey in the UK?

Coming in at a close second, the Golden eagle is the second largest bird of prey that can be found in the UK. Golden eagles can currently be spotted mainly in the Scottish Highlands, although there are plans to try and reintroduce them to parts of Northern Ireland and Snowdonia in Wales.

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.

What is the fastest bird of prey in England?

The Peregrine Falcon is the fastest bird of prey in the UK, as well as the fastest in the world. These impressive birds can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour whilst diving for prey.

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.

What is the big dark brown bird of prey in the UK?

Buzzards are the most likely suspect for being the large dark brown birds of prey in the UK. The plumage of Buzzards can be pretty variable, with some dark morphs, intermediate and some lighter plumaged birds.

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