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News article created on 17 February 2016

Raptors: part one

There is one group of birds that always capture everyone’s attention, raptors.

Whether it’s the kestrel hovering over a grass verge waiting to pounce on its prey or a sparrowhawk chasing its victim along the hedgerow, the sight of any bird of prey creates more than a little excitement.

Female kestral courtesy of Tony SlaterKestrels

Probably the most recognisable is the kestrel, hovering in the breeze checking out any movement below. The kestrel is the only bird of prey capable of this type of manoeuvre, sitting in the lightest of breezes about 10 to 20 metres above the ground. It feeds mainly on small mammals, lizards and large insects.

It is quite a small bird and, as with most raptors, the female is usually the bigger of the two. The female is predominantly brown with a pale speckled front, the male is smaller and sports a slate grey head and tail. They have adapted well to man’s encroachment of their territories and will nest in buildings and barns and even electricity pylons. They rarely build their own nest preferring to use an old nest of some other species.

Sparrowhawk courtesy of Tony SlaterSparrowhawks

Sparrowhawks are terrifically agile flyers, skimming hedgerows and waiting for their prey (usually small birds) to attempt an escape. They are often seen in gardens, mainly due to the increased use of bird tables and feeders. The male has bluish grey upper parts with orange red barred underparts, whilst the female, who is considerably bigger is browner in colour with a distinctive barred front.

The size difference in sparrowhawk sexes is probably the most noticeable of all raptors as females can be up to 25% larger. Male birds tend to hunt smaller birds such as blue tits and sparrows while the female will take larger prey such as thrushes and doves.

Buzzard courtesy of Tony SlaterBuzzards

Buzzards are making a fantastic comeback after almost becoming extinct due to the use of pesticides entering the food chain. Buzzards are mainly scavengers and rarely take live prey; hence their depletion when the use of now banned substances was prevalent.

Often seen in fields ‘worming’ (scratching the ground looking for earthworms), these majestic birds are powerfully built and soar on rising thermals, often in family groups calling to each other. Their call is likened to a high-pitched cat meow.

Adults are large brown birds with a distinctive pale band across their chest. Juveniles however are often much paler and cause birdwatchers some headaches when trying to identify them.

Perigrine Falcon courtesy of Tony SlaterPerigrine falcons

Peregrine falcons are another species adapting well to the urban expanses of man. Described as the fastest living creature hitting speeds of 200mph this awesome bird is a brutal and fearless killer.

Rising high into the sky it will dive at its target, usually pigeons or some other bird of similar size, making the kill on impact. Peregrines can be found in most major cities, they like to nest in high inaccessible places, church steeples, tall chimneys etc. They are widespread across Britain their distinctive blue grey back and barred white underparts with black head and ‘moustache’.

Watch out for part two of our raptors blog coming soon...

About this blog

Feathered fables

Each month Stuart Collins of our environment team and volunteer Tony Slater tell us about the bird life on our canals and rivers.

All pictures have been provided by Tony.

These blogs have been first published in www.canalboatingtimes.net


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