Get wrapped up in raptors this festive season – how many can you find near you?
December is a month of finch flocks, Snow Buntings and Twite on the beach, great flocks of wintering geese, ducks and swans. It is also a wonderful time to look for birds of prey. Whether they are hunting or coming in to roost, or indeed roosting, or even just resting between meals, birds of prey are simply wonderful to watch. And now is perhaps the best time to see them in action. Just remember to wrap up warm!
Unlike the Short-eared Owl, the closely related Long-eared Owl is not often seen flying during the daylight hours. Your best bet for seeing one of these handsome owls at this time of year is to visit a known roosting site where you can watch the birds snoozing and perhaps occasionally opening an eye, often deep within the protective cover of a Hawthorn, or similar dense bush. Birds may roost communally and you could see several at once at some sites. Long-eared Owls are very vulnerable to disturbance, so only visit sites where you can watch the owls at a respectful distance where you will no cause disturbance.
Arguably our most beautiful bird of prey, the male Hen Harrier has a ghostly pallidity which seems to illuminate the frozen winter landscape with a cold light. Pale grey with jet black wing tips and white rump, it is almost unmistakable. Females and younger birds (known as ringtails), are brown and streaked with long barred tails and an obvious white rump. Hen Harriers quarter low over rough grassland on wings held in a shallow V, looking for voles or other small mammals.
A threatened breeder in the northern and western uplands, which comes to the south and east in the autumn and winter.
One of the greatest raptor success stories of recent decades, the Buzzard is now the most numerous diurnal bird of prey in the UK, overtaking the Kestrel. The population has spread from strongholds in the west to now cover just about the whole of the country. Buzzards are the largest birds of prey most of us encounter, being solid chunky units with broad fingered wings. They can be seen gliding on wings held in a shallow V, sitting on fence posts or trees and even scrabbling for worms in open fields. This is a must-see bird this month (and every month).
A flying Peregrine is a vision of pure power in motion. With long, deep-based pointed wings and a shortish tail, the blue-grey adult is a magnificent, muscular looking bird, which rules the skies with an arrogant stylish swagger. Like the Buzzard, this is a bird which has expanded its range in recent years and has embraced cities as rocky canyon breeding sites, with plenty of pigeon food. But they are also birds of wild open country, where waders and ducks are often the target species.