Birds of prey

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Falcons are fast-flying birds of prey characterised by their long, pointed, sickle-shaped wings. The kestrel is the most familiar, seen hovering over roadside verges and fields. Hobby is a summer visitor with a fast chasing flight, looking like a huge swift.

Merlin is the smallest and is a winter visitor to our coastal marshes, while peregrine, our largest, nest on high buildings, including in urban centres, as well as their favoured cliffs.

Sparrowhawks almost became extinct in the 1960s due to pesticide poisoning but have recovered almost to their original numbers. They soar over their territory on broad blunt wings or, when hunting, fly fast and low over the ground trying to surprise prey.

Harriers are large, long-winged birds of prey that hunt by gliding low over the ground with wings held in a shallow V. Hen harrier is a winter visitor to the Essex marshes, becoming less common due to illegal persecution in Scotland. Marsh harrier, on the other hand, is breeding in increasing numbers in East Anglia, nesting in reed beds and marshy fields.

Red kites are a conservation success story, recovering from near extinction first in Wales, and now spreading out from reintroduction sites in England and Scotland. They are opportunists, feeding mainly on carrion and worms and sometimes stolen sandwiches!

© Alan Williams