Around the Solent, we are lucky to have a diverse array of magnificent birds of prey, each with its own unique characteristics. These birds are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their respective ecosystems.
Telling them apart can at first seem a challenge.
In this feature, we will explore some tips and advice to help identify different types of birds of prey and appreciate the unique features that make them distinct.
First, let’s take a look at the buzzard. In the last 20 years, its population has been recovering and it’s now the bird of prey we’re perhaps most likely to see along the south coast. It’s a medium-sized raptor with a wingspan of up to 1.2m.
With its broad wings and graceful soaring, it is a familiar sight in our countryside. Its plumage is typically brown, with a pale underbelly, and its call is a distinctive mewing sound that echoes across the hills.
Moving on to the red kite, its forked tail and reddish-brown plumage will help you identify it as it soars over woodlands and open countryside. Its wingspan can reach up to 1.8 meters, and its high-pitched whistle can often be heard before it can be seen.
You may see them constantly altering the angle of their wings and tail to make sudden changes of direction. They soar over woodlands and open countryside, where they hunt for small mammals and carrion.
Next up, the peregrine falcon, the fastest bird in the world. This expert hunter is often seen perched on a cliff, ready to dive at incredible speeds of up to 189 miles per hour to catch its prey. Peregrines only hunt other birds and are the world’s most widespread raptor.
Its dark steely grey plumage, white underparts, and barred tail are unmistakable, and its call is a high-pitched “kek-kek-kek.”
The sparrowhawk, a small bird of prey, is a common sight in woodlands and gardens, darting through the trees in pursuit of small birds.
With its distinctive barred plumage, white underbelly, and sharp “kik-kik-kik” call, it is a formidable predator despite its small size. They have the biggest difference in sizes between the sexes of any British bird: females can be as much as 3 times the size of the males.
The kestrel, is a small falcon, about the size of a magpie. Its hovering ability is impressive: as it can remain completely stationary in mid-air while scanning the ground for potential meals. Kestrels are able to see the wavelength of ultraviolet light, which allows them to trace movements of small mammals from the traces of urine they leave behind. They are often seen hovering over open countryside, with their long pointed wings held out, scanning the ground for tiny rodents and insects.
Its brown plumage, black markings on the wings, and barred tail are unique features, as is its high-pitched “klee-klee-klee” call.
Osprey are dark brown above with a contrasting white belly with long wings which make them look a little like gulls from a distance. While most birds of prey hunt for mammals or other birds, osprey are well equipped with scaly feet and a reversible toe to allow them to grip slippery fish when in flights. They migrate to West Africa during the winter, flying up to 430km in one day.
In 2017, Birds of Poole Harbour partnered with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to start an Osprey Translocation Project to re-establish a south coast breeding population of osprey. Follow their progress on the Birds of Poole Harbour website.
Last but certainly not least, let’s look at the white-tailed eagle, the largest bird of prey found in Europe and absent from the Solent coast for over 240 years until their reintroduction on the Isle of Wight in 2019.
With a wingspan that can exceed 8 feet, these majestic birds are well-equipped for their role as apex predators. Their keen eyesight and powerful talons make them formidable hunters, capable of snatching fish from the water’s surface.
Find out more by reading our recent guest blog about the white-tailed eagle project.