Scotlands amazing Birds of Prey and their Persecution
There are 14 Birds of Prey or Raptors, found in Scotland, both seen during the day and early evening, but also during the night, being both large and small but hunt with equal skill. Some of them are quite shy and it takes a lot of patience to sit and wait, but birds like the Buzzard are very common all over Scotland, so they can easily be seen in the skies. What is a Raptor?
A Raptor is a collection of species, specifically predatory birds, who hunt everything from small rodents to larger animals like lambs, but also taking their chance on carrion such as road kill or animals that have died naturally. Raptors are nature majestic birds and they can be found in every country around the globe.
Raptors belong to two scientific orders, the Strigiformes, which is the scientific name for owls and Falconiformes, related to falcons; hawks, osprey, eagles, etc.. The orders are divided into six groups, with a total of about 446 species worldwide and they include:
- Secretary bird (1 specie in Africa)
- Falcons (63 species)
- Osprey (1 specie)
- Hawks and eagles (226 species)
- Vultures (7 species)
- Owls (148 species)
The main features of Raptures are very different from other species, such as seed or fruit eating birds. Birds find that their beaks are designed to get the best out of the food that they eat. For example, the humming bird has a long slender beak, to accommodate its long tongue, which is inserted deep inside flowers, to get to the sweet liquid inside. Parrots and Raptors are the only birds that use
s more than its beak to hold and eat its food. They will use their claws to either hold the food in place and pull, or lift it to their beaks, but overall the range of beaks which birds have, come in all shapes and sizes, each doing a certain job so the bird can survive.
All Raptors have a specialised beak, which is hooked and very efficient to bite into meat and pull it from its meal. All Raptors use their sharp beaks as a butcher would use his sharp knife to strip meat. Falcons do something special with their beak, having learnt how to use their beak to sever the spinal cord, which not only gives a quick kill but the prey will stop fighting to get away and the Falcon can take its prey to its nest, to either eat it or share it with their young.
The Raptors have ultra-fantastic eye sight, and this is one of the things that make them a very successful hunter both day and night. The Owl has superb eye sight, not only can it see in the dark but also spot the smallest of animals as it swoops down silently and grabs it. What is also special about Owls eyes, amongst all other birds, is that their eyes are at the front, like we have, so they can see forward and to the sides, enabling them to turn their heads almost all the way around and so, not so many animals will escape from the Owl.
Raptors also have three eyelids. This is a very clever thing to have, as eyes are so important to all birds, but especially to Raptors, because if they cannot see, they cannot fly and they cannot eat. The three main reasons for this type of eye lids are to protect their eyes when they’re hunting and go in for a kill, because at the moment its talons grab the prey, it will close a set of eye lids to stop any damage to their eyes from the struggling prey, and as Raptors travel at high speed, dust may get into their eyes making it almost impossible to see where they’re going. And we must not forget that Raptors also fight each other over a mate, food or hunting area and once again, the protection of a few eye lids may just stop a claw.
The business end of the Raptor are its talons, also known as claws, which are insanely sharp, hence the reason why people who work with Raptors wear thick gloves, to protect them from the weight of a Raptor sitting on their arms, or it will puncture their skin and cause bleeding.
Raptors are experts when it comes to coordination between eyes, brain and talons, and it’s faster than you can blink. The Raptor is 100 feet from the ground looking for its breakfast and when it sees a rabbit, it goes into a silent free fall making itself as streamlined as possible, with its wings tucked back and a set of eyelids closed. If this Raptor is a Peregrine falcon, it can travel at speeds or around 242 mph, and just before its talons are exposed to enter its prey, Raptors wings spread instantly, and the Raptor’s slow down to almost zero, the talons will enter its prey with an ability to lock and the fate of the prey is sealed.
Raptors are awesome, they are designed to fly faster than some of the best production cars, they can steep dive faster than a jet fighter and they are more accurate over a large distance than the world’s best sniper, as they are designed that way to survive.
We will start our list with the Strigiformes, and their Sunday name is true owls or typical which are split into two families, the first family Strigidae and the second family is the Barn Owls or Tytonidae.
Owls are split into two families: One family is the Strigiformes, which is the name for the collection of True or Typical Owls, found in every continent except Antarctica, and there are 220 living species spread around the world. The next family grouping is the Tytonidae, which is the Barn Owl and, unlike its cousins the Strigiformes, they can be found around the world expect in northern North America, Saharan Africa, and large areas of Asia and of course Antarctica, and there are 25 species around the world but very little is known about some of them, with some Island Barn Owls might possibly be extinct, as the Red Owl has not been reported as being seen for a while now. And now in more detail, with the largest family of the owl family
Long eared Owl also known as the Northern Long Eared Owl. This owl is the middle size of the owls and it’s about the size of a wood pigeon, around 12-16 inch (31-40cm). It has upright black to grey ear tuffs, which are positioned on its head to get the best use of them for hearing and to make it look larger, for when it comes to putting off other owls who stray into his area looking for a mate. The female is larger than the male and it’s darker in colour than the female, with both male and female feathers being streaked. The Owls feet and toes are covered with feathers. The Owl is a nocturnal bird and it can commonly be seen roosting high up on a branch and during the winter many will come and roost together to keep warm.
The trees these Owls nest in are normally coniferous and it builds its nest from old nest of other larger birds and will lay between 4-6 eggs, which will hatch within 30 days. You will know when you’re close to a nesting chick, as they make a noise much like a rusty gate giving a squeak. Below a nest, you will find dropping from the Owl and when dry, it can be pulled apart and you can find small bones and fur of its last meal. The Owl will use artificial nest boxes, which does make it slightly easier to get access to for research purposes.
The long eared owls is like most owls, hunting silently over open fields with wings out, gliding with fixed wings and it mainly hunts small mammals and birds.
If you are going to look for this owl, it can be spotted roosting during the day, but best spotted at dusk, when they come out to hunt, although it may take you a few visits to the forest, looking for droppings below trees, the fresher the better.
It has large eyes, large head, a very short neck and wide wings. It has strong, short and the typical raptor hooked beak. The feathers are tawny to brown. When in flight, it has irregular wing beats, in the dark it’s said that the Short Eared flies like a bat. The eyes of this Owl are yellow/golden and look even more striking by the wide black rings, looking like it has taken time to visit the beauty salon. The female of this owl is larger, and the long eared and the short eared are sometimes mistaken for each other, especially as the large owl has an habit of laying its ears flat for unknown reasons.
The Short Eared Owl is the raptor with the widest range, and it is found everywhere except Australia and Antarctica. It is partially migratory, moving south in winter from the northern parts of its range, but it is known to use its instinct to move to areas with higher rodent population. How it knows is another mystery of these wonderful birds. They have also been known to nomadically travel to areas hundreds of miles away, looking for its favourite food of Voles if they are low in its hunting area.
The Barn Owl, is one of the best known and the most recognised of the owls. The Barn Owl is part of the Tytonidae family and they are found around the world except North America, Saharan Africa, and large areas of Asia and of course Antarctica, but they do live in Forests, Deserts, from Temperate Latitudes to the Tropics.
The Barn Owl, as the name states, might make you think they hide away in barns, but any sheltered space, barn included, man made boxes, will do and the Barn Owl is also happy in hollowed out trees. There are 25 species of Barn Owls, but little is known about 20 species of them and it’s believed the Red Barn Owl could already be one of 5 already extinct, including the Barn Owls living on islands.In the Bahamas, there is a myth of the chickcharney, which is a 3ft Barn Owl, which story says that if you meet it while travelling, and you treat the chickcharney, then you will have good luck on your travel, but if you don’t treat it well, then you will have bad luck and hard times. It has been said that its nest has been seen by the pulling of 3 pine trees together. But this possibly true legend is rooted in reality. chickcharney sightings and legends are rooted in reality. Tyto pollens was a 1 metre (3.3 ft) tall, flightless species of barn-owl native to Andros, and closely fits eyewitness descriptions. It was rumored to survive until the 16th century, until settlers felled the eastern Andros forests. to pollens was a 1 metre (3.3 ft) tall, flightless species of barn-owl native to Andros, and closely fits eyewitness descriptions. It was rumoured to survive until the 16th century, until settlers felled the eastern Andros forests. So this is a lesson from the past about the survival of native animals.
The first thing you notice about the Barn Owl is its large eyes placed into a heart shape facial shape made from stiff feathers, which the Owl uses to amplify the sounds around, especially the movement of voles in the grass. Changes of their wing feather also help to cut down the amount of noise so the chances of hunting down prey. The feathers on the front are darker, an orange brown colour, it has the raptor style beak with the hook, making it easier to get through fur, with sharp talons. It is the ultimate silent hunter.
Tawny Owl is like the barn owl, one of the most populated in the British Isles, except surprisingly Ireland. Many people, when they hear the call of the owl, think it’s the Barn Owl calling. In fact, it’s our very vocal Tawny. As humans we make ‘Twit twooo’ noises to imitate the Tawny, but in fact the call is ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo, which is possibly a male calling for a female and if you stop and listen, you may hear the female calling back. This plump owl has variable plumage, ranging from red-brown to grey-brown plumage dappled with buff, which is perfect camouflage for roosting in trees during the daytime and at night it becomes just a silhouette, and so you are more likely to hear it. The hooked bill is a greenish-yellow and the eyes are black. The legs and feet are feathered. Other birds, often of different species such as Blackbirds, finches and tits, gang up and mob roosting Tawny Owls, the commotion being useful in locating the owl, which is usually on a branch close to the tree trunk or in a hole in the tree. The Tawny Owl flies quickly with strong wing beats, followed by long glides on its broad rounded wings. They tend to eat Small mammals, such as shrews, voles, mice and rabbits, their main prey, which they usually capture by dropping on after having looked for it from a perch, but also amphibians and small birds, from Wren to Mallard. And if you want to see them hunting and feeding, the best time to do it is mainly at dusk and dawn. Again, like the Barn Owl, and because the Tawny is nocturnal, to study them is very difficult, so until more money is put into research, the secret of the Tawny Owl will stay secret for a little while longer. Breeding starts in March and they lay 1-7 eggs, allowing up to 35 days to hatch and the babies are ready to go in 38 days. The life of the Tawny can be very short as Tawny Owls are sedentary, except when the juveniles disperse. They disperse in August–November and by early winter will be either dead or holding a territory.
Common Buzzard is one of the most common of the Birds of Prey and can be seen all over Scotland. The Buzzard is closely related to the Golden Eagle and the White Tailed Eagle, also known by its other name the Sea Eagle. Whatever the time of year, you will find these beautiful animals, because as they have a large population, people tend to ignore it as someone would ignore a pigeon, and will go looking for likes of the Golden Eagle instead, but you will be surprised on how majestic and fast these birds are when hunting. If you happen to see one of these hunting, make sure it’s on film as you will want to watch it over and over again. The Common Buzzard likes to breed on the edge of woodland, but prefers to hunt in the open from a good height to see its prey, which is well to a varied diet of pheasant, rabbit, other small mammals to medium mammals, snakes and lizards, and can often be seen walking over recently ploughed fields looking for worms and insects. They also feed on their preferred prey species, field voles, in relation to their abundance. When the abundance of field voles decline, common buzzards switch to foraging on a diversity of prey items typical of farmland habitats. The Common Buzzard doesn’t normally gather in flocks but they have been seen in flocks of 8, they are normally hunt by themselves but have been seen to steal each other’s kill and fights will break out. Pairs mate for life. To attract a mate, or to impress its existing mate, the male performs a ritual aerial display before the beginning of spring. This spectacular display is known as 'the roller coaster'. He will rise high up in the sky, to turn and plummet downward, in a spiral, twisting and turning as he comes down. He then rises immediately upward to repeat the exercise. The call is a plaintive peea-ay, similar to a cat's meow. The Common Buzzard measures between 16 and 23 inches (40 and 58 cm) in length with a 43-55 inches (109–140 cm) wingspan, which is a great wing span and if you get the chance, and one of the rescue centres or Falconry Centres gets the chance to see one up close, or even have it sit on your arm.
The Golden Eagle. Now, we all know this famous bird in the Northern Hemisphere, as it was the symbol of the Roman Empire. It’s been the symbol of speed and strength, it’s the most beautifully majestic of all Birds of Prey.
The Golden Eagles use their agility and speed combined with powerful feet and massive, sharp talons to snatch up a variety of prey, mainly hares, rabbits, grouse and rabbits. The Eagles are territorial not travelling more than 80 miles, pairs stay together for several years and many for life, they build large nests high up on cliff faces, where the breeding pair will mate around March and will return to the same nest and meet with the same mate. The female will lay up to 5 eggs, two of which will possible survive and they will fledge about 3 month old and then they will wander far and wide, making their own nests and attract a mate. For centuries, this species has been one of the most highlyregarded birds used in falconry. Due to its hunting prowess, the golden eagle is regarded with great mystic reverence in some ancient, tribal cultures. It is one of the most extensively studied species of raptors in the world in some parts of its range.
The Golden Eagle is a very large raptor, 26 to 40 inches (66 to 102 centimetres) in length. Its wings are broad and the wingspan is 1.8 to 2.34 metres (5 ft 11 in to 7 ft 8 in) with its wing span the 5 largest in the world, and the females larger by about 3lb. What is amazing about the Golden Eagle is its claws, the long, straight and powerful hallux-claw (hind claw), which can range from 4.5 to 6.34 cm (1.77 to 2.50 in), about one centimetre longer than in a bald eagle.
Both sexes have the same colour plumage of dark brown, with grey on the inner wing and tail, and a paler, typically golden colour on the back of the crown and nape that gives the species its common name. The tarsal feathers of golden eagles tend to be paler, ranging from light golden to white. Its lethal bill with its razor shape stripping skills is a darker colour blending to white to a yellow cere, the feet of the Golden Eagle are also yellow. The final plumage of the junior birds do not fully come into until they are between 5 & 6 year old, sex of the birds cannot be told by plumage alone until they have full colour.Golden Eagles have a particular tendency for silence, even while breeding. Some vocalisation, however, has been recorded, and these normally are centring on the nesting time. The voice of the golden eagle is considered weak, high and shrill, has been called pathetic compared to the size and powerful body of the bird.
Golden Eagles have been said to be the best it flight of any raptors, standard ambling speed can be about 45–52 kilometres per hour (28–32 mph), but when it is hunting or displaying for a mate it can reach speeds of 190 kilometres per hour (120 mph) and when its diving it takes its legs in like an aircraft undercarriage and it can reach and incredible 240 to 320 kilometres per hour (150 to 200 mph), which is faster than F1 racing cars.
Hen Harrier: This is one of the UK’s most persecuted birds of prey for its skill at hunting free range fowl hence, where it gets its name from. This bird is in a battle against the large grouse shooting estates and the birds have been known to be shot or killed through poisoned bates, but not only does this harm the Hen Harrier, but also any other animal that comes along and finds the bait, but profit before wild life is the name of the game. These birds, like many birds of prey, are only doing what nature intended and have been doing for thousands of years. You can recognise the Hen Harrier as males are a light grey and the females and young are brown. Their wings are held in a V, while their tail long and barred tail. It can been seen swooping low over the heather and bracken looking for a meal of grouse.
The Kestrel is one of Scotland best known birds of prey and many are kept for demonstrations. It’s a highly intelligent bird. The Kestrel had a steep decline and was placed on an Amber alert, with the changing in farming practices in the 70's removal of hedgerows for bigger fields, which reduced its food stock. The Kestrel is a resilient bird and can now be found in the centre of the city nesting on window ledges which is good for the city dwelling humans and statues as pigeons stay away where the Kestrels fly. A familiar site with its long pointed wings and long tail. So whether in the country of in the centre of Edinburgh you will possible see the master of the city, the Kestrel.
Merlin Sometimes mistaken for the Kestrel, the Merlin is smaller than the Kestrel and the smallest bird of prey found in Scotland, but in this case, size doesn't matter as it can spot its prey while hovering high up. Its grey-blue upper parts, with a dark bar at the tip of its tail and a speckled tan breast, the female is a darker brown upper. Its speed is very impressive, as its able to catch a swallow in the wing. You will not see this bird all year round, as it a short migration bird moving to the coast in the autumn and winter.
The Ospreys: One bird that is always in the news around Spring, is the Ospreys returning after wintering in the warmer climates of sub-Saharan Africa and flies back to the same nesting site to meet up with her mate year after year. Many of the Ospreys nest for life and you will find a breeding pair at Loch of the Lowes, which is a loch near Dunkeld in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. The loch and the surrounding area are designated as a wildlife reserve. Scotland is proud to have been the home for the World’s Oldest breeding pair of Ospreys. The Lady, who had fledged a record of 50 young in her remarkable life, would now be 29 years old – about three times the average lifespan for her species. But in 2015 she failed to return to the Loch of the Lowes from her 6000 miles journey from Africa. The Osprey is a large fishing bird with long wings giving it a V shape while in the air, and both male and females look the same with the white under belly and the dark wings and back, although the female is larger. Once they have paired, they do tend to pair for life and both will hunt for fish. When eggs are laid, the female will sit on the eggs while the males make sure she is fed travelling miles looking for the best of the fish. Once the eggs have hatched, the males then work harder and bring twice as much fish. There are many lochs around Scotland where you will be able to watch them hunt. There are around 17 protected sites and on some of them there is normally information hide where you can watch the nest via CCTV. There are also websites owned by the RSPB, which have CCTV on their website. Have a long lens and patience and you may be lucky and see these beautiful skilled hunters.
The Peregrine falcon is one of the fastest Raptors in the UK, with speeds of over 200mph, and its beautiful sleek lines puts most missiles to shame, after taking down airborne prey with sharp talons and deadly aim and punch which any boxer would be proud of. Ita swift and agile bird and this well adapted bird can change itstechniques of hunting to different species, to make sure it’s well fed along with an offspring. The Peregrine falcons are blue-grey in colour, with a white face, black moustache and a speckled chest and they can be found around quarries, cliff tops and can be found nesting there, they can be seen.St Cyrus Nature Reserve.
The Red Kite, with its nearly 2metre (6ft) wing span, the reddish colour and the split tail makes is an easily recognised bird. It hunts a mix of carrion, but has been known to take worms and small mammals. They almost died out in Scotland, but a good breeding programme has brought them back from the brink. There is a few breeding centres around Scotland, where you can go and visit and learn all about the programmes, see them in flight and just see how wonderful these stunning birds are. While travelling through Scotland, keep an eye out, as they are natures road kill cleaners.
The Goshawk is like the 'Bouncer' of the Raptor world, as it’s large and beefy: The male is about the size of a Buzzard, the female is about the same size, although the male is bigger. They have a dark back, but their underneath has beautiful marking, looking like lines with a broad tail, with stunning orange eyes which can pin point the smallest of mammal and the cere is also yellow. Some people say that the dark patch at the back of the eyes make them look devilish, or fiendish. Like many birds, the female is slightly larger and darker The Goshawk likes to find and hunt mammals such as rabbit, squirrels, hare, but they will even eat frogs and snakes, if they find one in their area, and they have been known to take down the odd kestrel. It has been noticed by those who watch the Goshawk hunt, that they do so much like a Peregrine. The Goshawk likes to hunt from undercover, and they pick up great speed before coming in with a punch stunning its prey like a Sparrowhawk. They lay up to 5 eggs and only the strongest will survive. They hatch after 35 days and ready to leave the nest in another 35 to 45 days. The young, when fledged, are a lighter colour to their parents. The male brings the food to the nest, which is then fed by the female in the first week after hatching. Finding the nests are difficult due to the height and as it’s made from bark and twigs, its well camouflaged.
Crimes againts Raptors
There are humans who steal the eggs or the young to sell on the black market to collectors around the world.
This started to hit all UK Raptors but because of the job of the Wildlife Officers and the members of the public, the Raptors are now being watched and deaths are being reported. However, we’re sorry to say thatsurviving. According to the most recent data (RSPB 2012), the number of confirmed victims of poison abuse in Scotland, from 1989-2011, is 932, which includes 75 red kites, 29 golden eagles and 364 buzzards. The number of confirmed victims of shooting, trapping or nest destruction in Scotland, from 1989-2011, was 334, which includes
7 red kites,
17 golden eagles,
51 hen harriers,
16 sparrow hawks
Why would anyone wish to kill these instruments of nature, these stunning birds that do no harm? Raptors are being shot, the bait in traps are sometimes poisoned and they are left in agony, if the Raptor doesn't eat it but instead takes it to its chicks waiting in the nest, it’s not just affecting a generation of birds but also the next generation. It is really sad, as Golden Eagles are being blasted out the skies, while looking for food for themselves or their young. Why is this happening? On one hand, landowners and game keepers deny that they are killing the Raptors, but on the other hand someone is doing it. Is it because estate owners are losing Grouse to Raptors? We are sure that they are not going to lose much cash over a couple of small birds, but in the world of money, a couple of Raptors don't matter as much as a couple of Grouse if that makes sense.In 2013, tree containing White Tailed Eagle nests, one of our biggest Raptors, deliberately felled, in 2013, and 32 incidents were reported, which make any sense. In March 2014, 43 incidents reported, having the RSPB found that illegal pesticide was used to kill twelve Red Kites, one of the most beautiful birds there is, and then again in April 2014, used to kill a Buzzard and then again in September, this time to kill a Red Kite.Not only illegal pesticides killed all those Raptors plus other wild life, but it seeps down into the water table, it gets into our water system. It has been banned for a reason. So why store illegal pesticides? Is it just for this reason, is it being sold to others to kill Raptors or more sinister outcomes?
We do know that theft of chicks and eggs from nests, is a very profitable business as they are sold around the world to Raptor dealers and collectors. So, you may be thinking a couple of birds eggs, but in 2011, a man was jailed for 6 months for stealing and having in his hand made storage cabinets, over 700 stolen eggs from all around the country, many of them belonging to rare and protected species. This man had been jailed on three other occasions, but its so lucrative and the punishment for the crime is so minimal, that the time spent in jail sometimes is nothing compared to the money that can be made from the theft and illegal sale of the eggs. Along with common birds eggs there was a selection of rare eggs including:
18 Peregrine falcons
8 Osprey eggs (rare bird)
7 Golden eagle eggs (rare bird)
12 Avocet eggs
A statement from an RSPB officer on this case stated: “He is one of the most prolific collectors of wild bird eggs in the UK and he has got a disregard for wild birds, particularly rare ones, and for the people who spend thousands of hours looking after them. 'With the golden eagle eggs in particular, it was incredibly cruel. He took them about a week from hatching - he basically removed a live chick... and all he could do was put [the eggs] in a wooden tray and hide them in his home.'He is obsessive, he can't stop collecting eggs and he is putting some of the most endangered birds in the UK in peril.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the theft of rare birds and their eggs. This is why great time and expense are used to protect these birds with 24hr watch by volunteers. CCTV is not only used to protect the nests, but also for us as members of the public to get a close up view of their lives, along with any chicks that hatch. Just like for any rare animal, from birds to whales, we have to protect them or we will lose them forever.
Beautiful Raptors are not only being shot, poisoned, trapped, netted, with nests and trees being destroyed, but people are stealing their eggs, killing the rare chicks inside just for the egg to be placed in a tray, or eggs of chicks stolen and sold for large amounts of money. Is it right? So, to finish off, all raptors are protected by law and to intentionally kill or injury a wild bird, is an offence, whether it is by shooting, trapping, poisoning or interfering with their nest site. Wild birds, including their eggs, nests and chicks, are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Whilst common birds are protected under law, offences against rare species are arrestable and can result in custodial sentence or fines. If you find an injured or dead Raptor, then please dial 101 and report it and someone will deal with it. If you are out in the hills and you spot any raptors nesting, try and keep it to yourself, or if you know of a nest and you see anyone with a particular interest in the nest, who may have climbing gear, long lenses camera or bird watching scope, its possibly nothing, but you can compare it to having someone looking into the window of your neighbour’s house, they may just be a window cleaner, but does the window cleaner carry a crow bar? Everyone has to help keep these birds free to fly and do what raptors do all from persecution, as we want to see them fly free for years to come.
Scottish Wild Life Trust: Here
National Trust for Scotland: Here
Scottish Dolphin Centre: Here
The Conservation Volunteers in Scotland: Here