Birds of prey

Birds of prey

What is a bird of prey?

A bird of prey is a bird that primarily hunts and feeds on other animals that are large in size relative to the bird itself. They are also referred to as Raptors. They have excellent eyesight, which helps them detect food from a distance and great heights. Their beaks are powerful and curved, which help tear apart the flesh from the prey they've caught. Birds of prey have large talons, which are useful for catching and killing whilst hunting.

Did you know?

The term Raptor originates from the Latin word Rapio - which means to seize or take by force.

What do birds of prey eat?

Birds of prey hunt quite many different animals such as other birds, reptiles, small mammals, fish and insects. However, this does vary on their specific habitat. For example, birds of prey that live nearer to coastlines will eat much more amphibians and fish, and living more inland will eat more insects and small mammals.

It is often assumed that birds of prey eat small mammals, but they have quite varied diets.

What birds of prey are in the UK?

Our birds of prey are quite widespread and can be found in many different types of habitats throughout the country. This includes farmland, woodland and even cities. Some are much more distinctive and common than others, but seeing a bird of prey is usually a fantastic sight.

In the UK, we have three different classifications for the birds of prey that can be found:

Hawks and eagles

Most of the time, these birds will be soaring up high. They have large, powerful talons, rounded wings that tend to be broad and medium to large-sized hooked bills.


You tend to see these small to medium-sized birds hovering. They are often fast and agile and have narrow tails and wings.


These birds are mainly nocturnal, have small hooked bills and are anywhere from small to large. Heads are rounded, and the eyes are forward-facing.

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

The most common bird of prey found in the UK is the Buzzard - there are an estimated 79,000 breeding pairs. Buzzards have historically been more common in Scotland, Wales, the Lake District and South Western England. They are now breeding in every single county, which makes them a prevalent bird of prey.

The kestrel was once the most common, but there have been substantial declines over the last few decades. There is no clear conclusion as to why this serious decline, but experts have speculated that changes in agricultural practices and the increase in pesticides have contributed to the decline of the kestrel. There is still more analysis taking place.

Common buzzard flying

Common Buzzard



What is the largest bird of prey in the UK?

The largest bird of prey that can be found in the UK is the white-tailed eagle. These birds were once extinct in the UK during the early 20th century due to illegal killing. White-tailed Eagles have wingspans up to 240cm, and females weigh up to 7kg.

Whilst rearing their young, these birds can consume up to 600g of food each day.

The UK's largest bird of prey, the white tailed eagle.

The UK's largest bird of prey, the white tailed eagle.

What is the smallest bird of prey in the UK?

The smallest bird of prey found in the UK is the Merlin, a falcon family member. These birds can be as small as 26cm in length, comparable to a mistle thrush size.

Merlins hunt meadow pipits and usually are seen in spectacular aerial pursuits, usually in upland moor habitats.

The UK's smallest bird of prey, the merlin.

The UK's smallest bird of prey, the merlin.

The most common birds of prey to look out for in the UK

Rarer birds of prey in the UK to look out for

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