Birds of Prey: South and South-East England

Birds of Prey in the UK fall into a number of categories including Buzzards, Hawks, Falcons, Kites and Osprey. There are of course others but this guide looks at those that can be found in the South of England.

Unlike the incredible natural habitats found in Scotland and Wales, the South and South-East of England are not blessed with the same quantity of hills and mountains. As a result, the South of England does not see all the same birds of prey. Here is a list of Birds of Prey found in England in the South and South-East

  • BuzzardHen Harrier
  • Honey Buzzard
  • Marsh Harrier
  • Red Kites
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Ospreys
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Merlins
  • Kestrel
  • Hobbies


Research suggests that the Buzzard underwent a resurgence after struggling initially. Early in the 1800s, the Buzzard could be found right across the UK, but by 1875 they had become quite a persecuted bird, so their numbers declined to a point where they were only found in Western England. In the early 1900s, the Buzzard population in the UK reached its low before seeing a bit of growth. 

Unfortunately, the disease Myxomatosis struck the UK around 1950, leading to a significant impact on one of the buzzard favourite food sources, the Rabbit. This was blamed for a decline in Buzzard numbers right up until the 1960s, when the Buzzard population began to show increases again.

Buzzard numbers continued to increase, and in the 1990s, the Buzzard population in the UK accelerated with the bird spreading across the South and South-East of England.  Today the Buzzard can be found right across the UK, with the most significant population found in Scotland.

Weight550-1,000g (male); 700-1,300g (female)
FoodSmall mammals, birds, carrion

Although widely spread across the UK, you are unlikely to come across one unless you or your neighbour own woodland, heath or farmland in the South East of England.  Buzzards have been reported in some towns but are more likely to be found near woodland, perched on top of a fence post, tall tree or fence post.

Hen Harrier

The Hen Harrier was very common right across the UK but its liking to free-range fowl brought it into direct conflict with humans which in turn made it one of the most persecuted.  In the 1900s the Hen Harrier population increased, in line with a decrease in the number of moorland gamekeepers hired to protect grouse populations.   

As one might expect, these grouse diving moors attract a lot of attention from Hen Harriers who are drawn in from the surrounding areas where they are often killed while hunting or have their nests destroyed by the gamekeepers. 

Hen HarrierFigures
Weight300-400g (male) 400-600g (female)
FoodMainly small birds and mammals

Males are a pale grey in colour while the females and juvenile birds are brown and have long barred tails.

The Hen Harrier prefers areas open areas which are typically found in Scotland, Wales and Northern England but they have also been occasionally recorded in the South and South-East of England during the winter months.

They are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.

Honey Buzzard

The Honey Buzzard is a large bird of prey that forms part of the Buzzard family. Unlike many other larger prey birds, the Honey Buzzard feeds predominantly on Bees, Wasps, and other insect larvae. Still, when food is scarce, it will also feed on amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, nestlings, eggs of birds and worms.

Their plumage varies across adults and juveniles with the adults having a mix of browns and greys along white underparts.

Honey BuzzardFigures
FoodMainly small birds and mammals

It is a summer visitor to the UK, but they are relatively discrete, preferring to keep to woodlands. They are known to nest in the far South and South East of England in addition to Wales, Northern Ireland and Northern Scotland.

Honey buzzards are particularly common in Europe and it is believed that there are many breading pairs particularly in Russia.

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.

Marsh Harrier

The Marsh Harrier can be quickly recognised by its long tail and size as its the largest of the harriers. It tends to have a stocky build with broader wings. In flights, the Marsh Harrier holds its wings in a shallow ‘V’ position.

Male Marsh Harriers have a brown backs, gingery belly, paler head and neck, with distinct grey wings with black tips. Females appear different, darker brown but with a golden-yellow crown and throat.

The RSPB believes that the bird is more secure now than it has been in the last century but due to past historical declines it still remains on the Amber List.

Marsh HarrierFigures
Weight400-660g (male); 540-800g (female)
FoodMainly small birds and mammals

Although migrants to the UK, Marsh harriers are mainly found in the East and South East of England with pockets found in the North and South West in addition to Scotland. This once quite rare bird in the UK has begun spreading out across the UK into areas with reedbeds. As a result, they can be found in wetlands and nature reserves in the south.

Red Kites

With their distinct deeply forked tail, reddish-brown bodies the Red Kites is quite a majestic looking bird. Many years ago the Red Kite was perceived to pose a threat to both domestic and wild animals and was hunted nearly to extinction. It is now protected and following a number of reintroductions, its numbers have recovered.

Subsequently, the Red Kite can be found right across the UK but frequents the South and South East mainly in Winter in woodland, pasture and open countryside as well as more suburban areas.

Red KiteFigures
FoodMainly carrion and mammals

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.


The Sparrowhawk underwent a dramatic decline in the 1960s due to the use of pesticides and distinction looked very possible. Fortunately, the Sparrowhawk has made a comeback and can now be found right across the UK including the South and South East of England throughout the year.

They are small birds with the male having bluish-grey back and wings and orangey-brown bars on their chest and belly. Their eyes are yellow or orange in appearance with distinctive yellow legs and talons.

Their continued growth in numbers has in part been put down to their ongoing success in hunting UK garden birds. Something they have done very well for many years.

Sparrow HawkFigures
Weight110-196g (male); 185-342g (female)
FoodMainly small and medium sized birds

The Sparrowhawk relies heavily on stealth with the ability to skillfully weave its way at low level through trees, bushes and fences catching its prey by total surprise. I witnessed this first hand in my own garden while watching starlings feeding on my grass when a Sparrowhawk pounced just as a flock of Starlings took flight. Caught mid-flight the Sparrowhawk caught the Starling and dropped to the floor. A blink of an eye and it was all over.


In the late 19th century, the Osprey was driven to extinction due in part to illegal killing and low breeding numbers.  The Osprey was documented in Scotland in 1916, but this was also the year recorded as extinct as a breeding bird in the UK.  Fortunately, in 1954 birds from Scandinavia began the natural recolonisation, and they again started to appear in remote parts of Scotland.  The Osprey was helped further by the introduction of nesting platforms, regular protection watches and a wave of enthusiasm by the general public.

Ospreys are sometimes mistaken while in flight for buzzards or large gulls, but the keen-eyed will notice they vast a distinctively different silhouette. These large birds are mostly brown with mottled white heads and white underparts. They also have a distinctive brown stripe from their neck through their eye-line to the beak. Adult Ospreys have a yellow eye, which is orange in juveniles.

Sparrow HawkFigures

Today, Ospreys are most commonly found in Scotland in the UK, with a few sightings also recorded in Wales and the Midlands.  This summer visitor gets a mention here, as it has been sighted briefly in the far South of England as it makes its passage to West Africa. This migration can be as short as 13 days, with some birds recorded undertaking a continuous flight. Recent evidence suggests that some are choosing to stop off in Spain or Portugal before continuing their journey.

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.

Peregrine Falcon

This large and powerful falcon can be found across the UK, including the far South and South-East, where it can be discovered on rocky sea cliffs and upload areas.  It is dark slate-grey above that can appear dark brown in some, white throat with a strong black moustache and mask.

Like many birds of prey in the UK, the Peregrine suffered a great deal of persecution in the 19th and 20th centuries which saw declining numbers, primarily because of illegal killing and the widespread toxic agricultural chemicals such as DDT which decimated the Peregrine population in the UK during the late 1950s. DDT built up in the food chain, resulting in death within the adult Peregrines along with eggshell thinning and a marked reduction in successful breeding. As a result, by the mid-1960s, 80 per cent of the UK peregrine population had been lost. 

Peregrine FalconFigures
Length39-50 cm
Wingspan95-115 cm
Weight600-1300 g
FoodMainly small and medium sized birds

Fortunately, a change in the laws alongside better protection has since seen a recovery and the Peregrine is again widespread filmed nesting high up on buildings within our cities and towns. 

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.


Often confused with the Kestrel, the Merlin is the UK’s smallest bird of prey, with the largest bird barely matches that of the smallest Kestrel.  The tail is square, and the wings are broad-based and, when resting, the Merlin prefers the ground or low fence post.  Unlike the Kestrel, they never hover but instead fly at a low level, dashing with purpose.

During the breeding season in the UK, the Merlin prefers the open space of upland and moorland habitats but during the winter it can be found in other areas such as farmland, lowland heats and coastal areas. Its at this time of year that the Merlin may be spotted in most coastal location around the UK including the South and South-East of England. They are also regular visitors to many nature reserves during winter.

Weight125-234g (male); 164-300g (female)
FoodMainly small birds

Each winter, the UK Merlin population swells as birds from Iceland make the short hop and migrate over to us for our warmer climate. The Merlin population has recovered somewhat since a recorded population collapse in the late 20th Century but they are still on the Red List.

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.


The Kestrel is resident in the UK and can be found right across England throughout the year. They are found in a variety of habitats from moorland and urban areas. As the Kestrel is a falcon species, they exceptional eyesight and are therefore not particularly keen on dense woodland.

The Male Kestrel has a slate-blue head and tail with a distinct black band. They have a gingery brown back which is speckled with black on the underside. In contrast, females are similar, but we a more uniformed appearance, brown on their back and darker bands on their tail.

FoodMainly small birds

The Kestrel are a familiar sight in the UK, as many motorway drivers will testify. They can often be seen hovering beside roadside verges, and although this method is very effective for hunting prey for the Kestrel, it also uses a lot of energy. Thus, the Kestrel has developed other tactics to catch prey, including ambushing birds as they begin to roost for the evening.

Persecuted for many years by landowners and gamekeepers, in addition to changing farming practices, the Kestrels population has been drastically reduced, and they are now on the amber list.

In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.


The Hobby is another fast-flying falcon but unlike the Kestrel it is not resident in the UK. Found mainly in summer, this migrant begins to arrive in April before leaving our shores in September/October and heading to Africa. During the summer months, the Hobby can be found in the central and southern parts of the UK including the South-East.

Hobbies have a greyish-brown head with whiteish cheeks and two short black moustache stripes under each eye. They are similar in size to the Kestrel and have long pointed wings. Their breast is whitish with dark streaks, while the feathers around the thighs are often a rusty-red colour which is one of the methods used to distinguish them from the similarly sized Kestrels.

FoodInsects and small birds

The Kestrel has a similar dashing flight to that of the Merlin and preys on insects and small birds.  They prefer open areas for hunting but will head to nearby woodland for nesting.  They can often be found around lakes or flooded quarry, where they will take advantage of the larger number of dragonflies.  While in flight, the Kestrel can also transfer prey that it catches from talon to beak.

Although they are listed as Green in the UK conservation status, In the UK, they are listed on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, which affords special protection at all times.


I'm Wayne. For many years, I have been a fan of feeding the birds in my back garden and often asked myself questions about what I was seeing. This prompted me to research things further and I have continued to do so ever since. This is the site where I share everything I have learned.

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