British birds of prey guide: how to identify raptors and where to see

Learning a few key characteristics - such as wing shape, flight style and colour - can help you distinguish one bird of prey species from the next, even from far below. Here is our expert guide to British birds or prey, also known as raptors, and best places to see in the UK.

Close up of a Red kite (Milvus milvus) in flight in countryside

Here is our expert guide to British birds of prey, also known as raptors, found in the UK, including how to identify and best places to spot.

1

Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

Bigger than a buzzard, the osprey has pale underparts, long wingtip feathers and dark patches where the wings bend. It can be mistaken for a gull. In September, this raptor migrates to West Africa for the winter. Mostly eats fish.

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Osprey
Sea eagle
2

Red Kite, Milvus milvus

This elegant bird of prey has a uniquely forked tail and angular wings that give it a rakish silhouette. It has a buoyant flight style, constantly altering its wing and tail pitch to execute sudden changes of direction. Eats carrion, invertebrates and scraps.

Red kite
3

Marsh harrier, Circus aeruginosus

A buzzard-sized bird of prey with a long tail. It flies with its wings lifted up in an obvious ‘V’ shape, though this can be hard to see from below. Patrolling low over reedbeds, it keeps its head down to scan for prey. Eats small mammals and birds.

Marsh harrier
4

Buzzard, Buteo buteo

Britain’s commonest bird of prey, the buzzard is the species most often seen soaring. It wheels about in the air on broad wings, with its tail fanned out and wingtip feathers widely splayed. Eats birds, mammals and carrion.

Buzzard
5

Peregrine, Falco peregrinus

This powerful, chunky falcon, resembling a large kestrel but with a shorter tail, has stiff, rapid wing beats. It frequently soars with wings spread, but when hunting makes dramatic dives after prey. Eats medium-sized birds.

Peregrine
(Credit: Getty)
6

Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Looking like a giant swift, the hobby has very pointed, narrow, swept-back wings, heavily streaked underparts and red ‘trousers’. It seldom soars. Eats dragonflies, swallows and martins.

Hobby
7

Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus

The sparrowhawk has an extremely long tail and broad wings with long feathered wingtips like ‘fingers’. It hunts mainly at hedge-height, but also circles high in the sky. Female is much larger than male. Eats small birds.

Sparrowhawk
8

Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

With the classic falcon silhouette, the kestrel has very long pointed wings and a long tail. It adopts a variety of flight styles, including fast pursuit, soaring in circles and hovering. Has a diets of voles and mice.

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Kestrel
9

Merlin, Falco columbarius

Not much larger than a thrush, this ‘pocket rocket’ flies swift and low, skimming the ground with frequent glides between bursts of flapping. Has a diet of small birds.

Merlin