A guide to Britain's birds of prey - urban dwellers

A guide to Britain's birds of prey - urban dwellers

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While not many of us are lucky enough to see them in our gardens, there are few sights more impressive than seeing a bird of prey in the wild. The UK is home to 15 different species of these majestic creatures, with the majority residents, while a small number are summer visitors. 

Over the next few months, we will profile each of Britain's birds of prey and where you're likely to see them. We start with the species that can often be seen close to the UK's largest towns and cities.

If you're going to see any species of bird of prey it will most likely be the Buzzard. Indeed, there's a good chance you've already seen one without realising it. Buzzard numbers have grown dramatically over the past few decades and they are now common sights in the countryside and even in some urban areas. You can identify them by their relatively large size and the fact they tend to soar higher in the sky than most birds. 

Buzzards are opportunists and will feed on everything from rabbits to worms and insects. The RSPB believes there are currently between 57,000 and 79,000  breeding pairs in the UK, making it the country's most common bird of prey by far.

Another familiar sight is the Kestrel. Much smaller than the Buzzard, these birds can be identified by their distinctive hovering hunting technique and can often be spotted along roadsides. Due to their small size - Kestrel's typically weigh no more than a magpie - they are small prey specialists, hunting rodents, small birds and insects.

Sadly, Kestel numbers have declined in recent years, with research still underway to determine the reasons behind this fall. Despite this worrying trend, the species is still the second most common bird of prey in the UK, with an estimated 46,000 breeding pairs.

Red Kite
One of the UK's most impressive wildlife success stories is the Red Kite. Heavy persecution meant these impressive birds were wiped out in the UK by the 1930s, bar a tiny population in central Wales. However, a reintroduction project that started around 25 years ago has allowed Red Kites to return to parts of south-east and northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, these striking birds can now regularly be seen in Reading, the UK's largest town. 

Red Kites are easy to spot thanks to their large size, reddish colouration and forked tail. Typically scavengers rather than active hunters, you are most likely to see a kite soaring as it looks for carrion. The RSPB estimates there are now 1,600 breeding pairs in the UK, up from just ten at the height of the species' decline. 

Peregrine Falcon
Another bird of prey that has made its home in the UK's urban areas is the Peregrine Falcon, although you will have to be quite lucky to spot one. Once restricted to some of the country's most remote areas, Peregrines are now breeding in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other towns and cities across Britain.

Skyscrapers are a surprisingly effective replacement for the jagged cliffsides these birds evolved to inhabit and the abundance of feral pigeons means there is no shortage of prey for them to eat. Urban peregrine populations are still relatively small and you'll need to know where to look or be very fortunate to spot one of these birds. You can, however, view a live video feed of a nest on Norwich Cathedral here

Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth, with a high-speed dive hunting technique allowing the bird to reach speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. Away from towns and cities, these falcons are most likely to be found in the uplands of northern England and Scotland and along rocky parts of the coast. The RSPB estimates the UK is home to 1,500 breeding pairs.