Monday, 6 June 2011

Some tips on confirming breeding by birds of prey

In this last summer of the BTO Atlas, we are trying to confirm breeding by as many species as possible. The main atlas period ends on 31st July, but we can continue to confirm breeding into the autumn. This is especially relevant to birds of prey, several of which don't fledge until July or August.

The tips below for three species – all now widespread in the county – are based closely on guidance prepared by Rob Clements for Kent but are equally applicable here. So why not take the opportunity for some relaxed late summer birding and give it a go? Bear in mind that you should avoid disturbing the birds, especially important for Hobby, which is a Schedule 1 species for which disturbance at the nest (without a licence) is an offence. Having said that I saw my first newly fledged Common Buzzard today. Most species seem to have advance their breeding by at least a couple of weeks this year so please keep that in mind.

Common Buzzard

Confirming breeding for Common Buzzard is not difficult! These are large and noisy birds; the adults can be seen carrying food items back towards a nest-site through-out the day, and newly-fledged young are almost continuously noisy, plaintively calling for food from hedgerow trees and woodland edge. Look for areas of mixed woodland and farmland. Find a good viewpoint on a sunny morning in July or August. Scan the horizon for Buzzards, listen for their calls. If all the activity is distant, move nearer, preferably without disturbing the birds. Juvenile Buzzards are much whiter than adults, and lack the clearly defined dark terminal bands on tail and under-wings.


Best looked for in July/August. Most blocks of mature conifers hold breeding Sparrow-hawk Walk around quietly, listening for young Sparrowhawks plaintive begging calls, or the chattering alarm calls from the adults. The successful nest is quite obvious, with thousands of white down feathers, all over the nest and surrounding branches. The woodland floor below is splattered with white droppings, as if some-one had been flicking white paint all around an area of 100 sq yds or more. Watching from a viewpoint, the adult Sparrowhawks can be seen approaching the wood carrying bird prey, often diving in from high up.


Look for successful breeding Hobby in the period from 1st August to 20th September. Start off from a viewpoint giving a good view over an area of woodland edge and hedgerow trees. Choose sunny weather between 9.00am to 4.00pm. Look for family groups of Hobby hawking insects or chasing each other around in spectacular play. Closer up, you can hear a young Hobby keeping up almost continual calling, a higher pitched version of Peregrine begging calls. Juvenile Hobbies are easily identified, with buff edging to the feathering on the upper-parts and an absence of reddish "trousers." Adult Hobbies regularly visit the fledged juveniles, bringing bird prey and chasing off intruding Sparrowhawks and Crows. If you've not seen anything after an hours watching, move on and try somewhere else. Hobby nests are often approx. two miles apart in open farmland in southern England, though it may well be more in parts of Lincolnshire.