Marsh Harrier

The largest of the harriers, the Marsh Harrier can be recognised by its long tail and light flight with wings held in a shallow 'V' as it drifts leisurely above the reed beds with steady wing beats between glides. It is distinguishable from other harriers by its larger size, heavier build, broader wings and absence of white on its rump. They breed in marshland and river valleys, with Norfolk being one of the best places to see them.

A Marsh Harrier is Buzzard sized but less bulky. The male has a light coloured head and tri-coloured wings, which are brown with grey underside patches and distinctive black wing tips. The underside of the tail is also grey. Female Hen Harriers are almost entirely chocolate-brown, with the top of their head and front of their wings having a yellowish straw colour.

The items on a Marsh Harrier’s menu are many and varied. Everything from amphibians to small mammals (like rabbits) and the chicks of waterbirds (like ducks) which live on or near marshes and wetland. The female, being larger, can target more substantial meals – including moorhens, water rails and wading birds. The Marsh Harrier’s hunting technique is ‘low and slow’. It quarters the ground like a Barn Owl, floating above the reeds looking and listening intently for movement below, surprise being their key to success. They can turn on a sixpence and drop on to their prey in an instant.

Marsh Harriers nest in reed beds. Before breeding, they do a breathtaking aerial display, including a sky-dance where the male mock attacks the female and passes food which she catches. Pairing usually lasts for a single breeding season, but some will remain together for several years. Marsh Harriers are mostly silent except during courtship when the male has a "kweeoo" call. Nesting starts in April. The female builds a nest from a pile of reeds and sticks on marshy ground while the male constructs 'false' nests nearby to show he could do it if she wanted. She lays 3-8 eggs 2-3 days apart, which hatch after 35 days giving an unevenly aged brood. Mum alone incubates the eggs while dad brings her food. Once hatched, dad continues to bring the food while mum feeds the young until they have grown and scattered in the nearby vegetation. The youngsters can fly after 35 days. Mum stays with them for a further three weeks, showing them how to hunt.

The Marsh Harrier is one of the success stories of recent times. In the 1800s, they were abundant in Norfolk and throughout East Anglia. However, they almost became extinct because of habitat loss from the draining of marshes for farmland and from persecution. They were down to one pair by 1971. They are Specially Protected and the restoring of wetlands has helped their recovery. There are now over 400 pairs. Most Marsh Harriers are summer visitors, with few staying over winter, migrating south to Southern Europe and Africa in the autumn.

Their Latin name is 'circus aeruginosis' where 'circus' is derived from the Ancient Greek 'kirkos', referring to a bird of prey's circling flight ('kirkos' means 'circle') and 'aeruginosus' is from the Latin for 'rusty'. A rusty coloured circling bird.

Peregrine

The Peregrine’s fortunes have varied. Falconers have used Peregrines for over 3,000 years, beginning with the nomads of central Asia. In the Middle Ages, they were held as a symbol of royalty and nobility, and harsh punishments protected them. Later, when shooting became popular, gamekeepers persecuted them. In the Second World War, they killed Peregrines to protect the homing pigeons carrying secret messages. Then pesticides like DDT affected the calcium in their eggshells, causing them to break before the chicks could hatch. Thankfully, these pesticides are now banned, and the Peregrine is once again protected. Its numbers are steadily recovering and you can regularly see them nesting on top of tall city buildings, cathedrals being a firm favourite, showing off how noble they are. Although they nest on buildings, cliffs and crags, they are a bird of the open countryside.

The Peregrine is crow sized with a dark blue back, finely spotted buff underparts, and sporting a black fighter pilot’s moustache on its white cheeks, giving it a hooded look. It has long, broad-based pointed wings with a relatively short tail. Their underwing is barred, stripy looking. The female is noticeably larger than the male. The Peregrine’s silhouette is quite distinctive, and it flies with swift wing beats followed by long glides.

Their favourite food is a nice fat Woodpigeon, though they eat birds of all sizes from Blue Tits to Black-headed Gulls. They pick their prey from a high perch or by circling high in the sky, then shooting down like a Stuka in a fast diving ‘stoop’ to catch it, ripping it apart with their talons or knocking it senseless. In a ‘stoop’ the Peregrine is the fastest bird in the world, reaching speeds of over 200mph! They will even dive on to small mammals like rabbits, eating them in extreme weather conditions when birds are scarce. Its athleticism, eagerness to hunt, and easiness to train has made it a very popular bird with falconers.

Peregrines mate for life. The courtship involves breath-taking aerobatics. The male will drop food for the female to catch in flight. Nothing like a juicy Collared Dove for dinner or a Skylark snack to cement a good relationship. The female chooses the nest site, where she scrapes a shallow hollow in which to lay her eggs. The 3-4 white to buff eggs, with red or brown markings, are laid in March. Mum does most of the incubating. Dad helps during the day and keeps guard at night. The eggs hatch after 29 days. Both parents feed the chicks (‘eyases’) who can fly 45 days later but depend on mum (called a ‘falcon’) and dad (called a ‘tiercel’) for a further 2 months. To breed successfully Peregrines need a large open area with plenty of food to hunt. Mum and dad will vigorously defend their nest against other predators, issuing a warning “keck-keck-keck” alarm call, then killing anything that gets too close. In one recorded instance, a Snowy Owl killed a chick and the larger owl was in turn killed by a stooping, angry Peregrine parent. The message is simple; don’t mess with a Peregrine’s chick.

Away from the nest a Peregrine is solitary. There are 1,700 pairs in Britain, with the strongholds of breeding birds being in the uplands of the north and west and along rocky seacoasts. Northern birds move south in winter and many move into coastal areas where there are plenty of seabirds for Christmas dinner. The oldest ringed Peregrine lived to be 18 years old. Their Latin name is ’falco peregrinus’. Both the English and Latin names mean ‘wandering falcon’. The Latin ’falco’ comes from ’falx’, meaning ‘sickle’, as a falcon’s silhouette is sickle-shaped with their long, pointed wings.

Osprey

With its natty black bandana, the Osprey is the swashbuckling Zoro of the skies. A Majestic black and white pescatarian that likes nothing better than a good fish supper. They are one of the most widely distributed birds of prey, found in every continent except Antarctica. They return here each Spring after their winter stay in Senegal. Being fish lovers, they live near lakes, large rivers, coastal lagoons and estuaries.

The Osprey looks gull-like high in the sky with its bowed wings. It is slightly longer bodied than a Buzzard and has much longer wings. The Osprey is dark brown above, clean white below with a white head and a thick black stripe through its yellow eye - like a bandana mask. There is a dark patch at the bend in the wings and, in flight, the long wings appear kinked at the elbow. Their tail is barred. Like many birds of prey, the female is slightly larger than the male. Their call is a high-pitched “pieu, pieu pieu” whistle, often made round the nest.

Ospreys and Owls are the only raptors whose outer toe is reversible, allowing them to grasp their prey with two toes in front and two behind, perfect for grabbing fish out of water. They have well adapted nostrils which can be closed and feathers that are waterproof with special spines under their toes to grip their slippery prey. An Osprey can perch for hours on trees or posts before flying off to catch a fish, doing a spectacular feet first dive. Although their main diet is fish and more fish, they will eat small amphibians. There was a medieval belief that fish were so mesmerised by Ospreys that they turned belly-up in surrender!

Ospreys reach sexual maturity and begin breeding around the age of three or four. The male returns first in late March and does an aerial display to impress a female. Once paired, they will usually stay together for life. They build a big nest made of sticks in a tree and will reuse the same nest year after year, adding a few more sticks every year so the nests can get quite big. Two or three eggs are laid in April and the female does most of the incubating. They hatch after 35 days and both parents feed the youngsters who can fly 50 days later. The youngsters depend on mum and dad right up to the beginning of their migration back to Africa in August.

There are 240 Osprey pairs nesting in Britain, and the birds are specially protected. A lot of conservation effort and re-introductions has helped them recover. The biggest threat to Ospreys in Britain is from egg collectors, so many Osprey nests are either kept secret or carefully monitored by volunteer wildlife groups. The oldest European wild Osprey on record lived to be over thirty years of age.

Their Latin name is ’pandion haliaetus’ where ’pandion’ is derived from the mythical Greek king of Athens and grandfather of Theseus, and ’haliaetus’ comes from the Ancient Greek ’haliaetos’ which is ’hali’ for ‘sea’ and ’aetos’ for ‘eagle’. Not surprisingly, the Osprey is also called sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk. The origin of the English word ‘Osprey’ is obscure and is thought to be derived from the Medieval Latin ’avis prede’ meaning ‘bird of prey’. In Buddhism, the Osprey is sometimes represented as the ‘King of Birds’ and in Chinese folklore the Osprey is considered to be an icon of fidelity and harmony between husband and wife, due to its highly monogamous habits.

Merlin

Another magic bird of prey with a wizard’s name. It is Europe's smallest falcon of the open countryside. The Merlin has for centuries been a favourite falconry bird with its ability to catch small birds. Being small, in medieval times, they considered it a lady's falcon.

The Merlin has a typical falcon shape with triangular pointed wings. It is smaller than a Kestrel and not much bigger than a potbellied Mistle Thrush. It is easy to tell apart from a Kestrel as it doesn't hover. Merlins have a blue-grey back and a rusty streaked breast. Their pointed wings are dark at the ends and there is a striking black band at the end of the tail. The female is larger and has a browner back. Merlins fly close to the ground in a direct dashing flight with short powerful wing beats followed by a glide.

Merlins usually hunt alone, chasing small birds with agile twists and turns and catching them in the air. It is a fantastic, fast and magical chase to watch. Typical prey includes Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches and Thrushes. They will also feed on voles, bats, moths, and beetles. Merlins rely on their speed and agility, flying fast and low, typically less than one metre above the ground, using trees and large shrubs as cover before taking their prey by surprise.

Merlin breeding occurs typically in May or June. They nest on the ground amongst moorland heather or in old crow nests. Both Mum and dad incubate the 3-5 eggs which hatch after 28 days. Initially, mum tends the young while dad gets the food, issuing a "kek, kek, kek" call near the nest. After 18 days, the young Merlins leave the nest and hide somewhere nearby. They can fly at 25 days and depend on mum and dad for a further 4 weeks. Crows are the primary threat to the eggs and nestlings, though in general carnivorous birds avoid Merlins because of their aggressiveness and agility. Their desire to drive larger raptors away from their territory is so pronounced that it is an identifying characteristic.

There are 1300 pairs in Britain. In winter, they move south from their moorland breeding grounds to lowland areas like coastal salt marshes. Some Merlins from Northern Europe also overwinter here. By far the most serious long-term threat to these birds is habitat destruction, especially in their moorland breeding areas. They need tall heather and are vulnerable to over management by burning or sheep grazing. Like so many birds of prey, they are specially protected.

Their Latin name is 'falco columbarius' where 'falco' derives from the Latin 'falx' or 'falcis' for a sickle, referring to the claws of falcons and 'columbarius' is Latin for 'of doves' from 'columba' meaning 'dove'. The English name Merlin is derived from Anglo-Norman 'merilun' or 'meriliun'. They are also known as a 'pigeon hawk' from their bird catching ability.

Hobby

A Hobby is a fairly small, spectacular, fast flying falcon with long, narrow wings that wears red trousers. It is a summer visitor of open fields and woodland, often seen over flooded gravel pits.

It looks like an oversized Swift with its sickle-shaped wings. It is the size of a Kestrel but more rakish, with long pointed wings and a short tail. The Hobby is dark blue-grey above and sports a black moustache on its white cheeks. It is thickly streaked below with reddish flanks and red under the tail that makes it look like it is wearing rusty red trousers. It is the natty dresser of the falcon world. Both sexes look the same though, as with many birds of prey, the female is slightly bigger and bossier. Hobbies are elegant flyers that have power and speed, capable of rapid acceleration and breath-taking turns when catching prey.

The Hobby is the only bird of prey that regularly feeds on large insects, which it catches in flight with its feet, and eats while slowly soaring in circles. Big juicy dragonflies are a favourite, followed closely by grasshoppers and moths. It will also eat small birds. The Hobby is so agile it can even catch Swallows, House Martins and bats. Swallows and House Martins have a characteristic "hobby" alarm call when one is about. It is fast enough to rob other predators, like Kestrels, of their catches.

Hobby courtship starts in May with dramatic soaring and diving aerobatics. This is quite late compared to other migrant birds. It nests in mature trees, using the old nests of other birds like crows. The only time you will hear a Hobby is when it gives a "kew, kew, kew" call in the vicinity of its nest. The 2-4 eggs are laid in late in June and hatch after 28 days. Mum does most of the incubation while dad brings the food and occasionally relieves her when she fancies a wing stretch. The youngsters can fly 28 days later but depend on their parents for a month. It is thought that Hobbies lay their eggs late, so many inexperienced young birds are about for food when the youngsters are ready to fly and learning to feed. With their late start, there is only time for them to have one brood.

The Hobby is a summer visitor, found mainly in England, though a rare few get as far as Scotland. There are 3,000 pairs and it is specially protected as liking to eat small birds has not made it a friend of gamekeepers. Its current biggest threat is egg thieves. The oldest known Hobby lived for 15 years, though the average life span is usually 5 years.

The Latin is 'falco subbuteo' where 'falco' derives from the Latin 'falx' or 'falcis' for a sickle, referring to the claws of falcons and 'subbuteo' is from the Latin 'sub' for 'near to' and 'buteo' for 'buzzard'. A falcon near to a Buzzard. The English name comes from Old French 'hobé' or 'hobet'. Interestingly, the inventor of the tabletop football game called it 'Subbuteo' because the Hobby was his favourite bird.

Hen Harrier

A male Hen Harrier elegantly flying, like a grey ghost, back and forth above a misty moorland is a sight that, once seen, is never forgotten. They are a hunter of the open uplands, keeping as far away from people as possible.

The Hen Harrier is a slender bird of prey, smaller than a Buzzard. The male is a ghostly blue-grey with long black, fingered wing tips, a long tail, a white rump (like a House Martin), and white underparts. Females are larger and dark brown. They have an owl-like appearance on their face. Their flight is buoyant and low, just one or two metres above the ground, as they quarter (zigzag) the ground for something to eat, holding their wings in a shallow V.

Hen Harriers use their ears as well as their eyes to find prey amongst the dense moorland vegetation. They eat small mammals and birds, making them the enemy of gamekeepers - who sometimes illegally kill them for eating their grouse and partridge chicks.

When courting, the male performs a spectacular sky dance, passing food to the female in the air or dropping it for her to catch. A male has a territory of more than a square kilometre and might have multiple partners. Where a male has mated with several females, all the nests tend to be close to one another as he is a bit lazy and doesn't want to go too far when delivering food to his ladies. Nesting begins in April and the nest is made of a pile of heather on the ground. The 4-6 eggs hatch after 30 days and are incubated by the female while the male brings things to eat. The eggs are laid one or two days apart so there is a noticeable age gap between the young. After two weeks the youngsters are big enough to be left on their own, and both parents hunt for food. They are able to fly 35 days later but stay with mum for several weeks to learn all about quartering. Hen Harriers are silent apart from when approaching a nest when they make a yikkering call.

There are 600 pairs of Hen Harriers in Britain and they are specially protected. Their number plummeted as a result of persecution in Victorian times and they were almost completely exterminated. They still face large threats from illegal persecution by gamekeepers and egg collectors. Planting of conifer forests on moorlands has also restricted the available habitat that they need. The Hen Harrier is partially migrant as northern birds move south and all birds leave their moorland breeding areas for lowland or coastal areas in winter where they may be joined by others from the continent. Large groups of Hen Harriers can gather in a single roost.

Their Latin name is 'circus cyaneus' where 'circus' is derived from Ancient Greek 'kirkos' for 'circle' which refers to a Hen Harrier's circling flight (and also where we get circus from as circus rings are traditionally round). The 'cyaneus' is Latin for 'dark-blue'. The English name Hen Harrier comes from the fact that they once used to hunt free-range hens! Female Hen Harriers are also known as 'ringtails' because of their distinctive tail banding.

White-tailed Eagle

The White-tailed Eagle is huge! It is an eagle of the sea. It is the largest eagle in Europe and the fourth largest eagle in the world, resembling a flying barn door with a big beak. Being so big, it is a bit of a playground bully, pinching food from other birds and throwing its weight about.

The White-tailed Eagle is brown with a long-looking pale head, a white tail, and a big, mean, hooked yellow bill (that is clearly visible even in flight). The wings are broad with obvious fingered tips. It has a short wedge-shaped tail, and the head protrudes when flying. Their flight is like a Heron's with shallow wing beats followed by a long glide. It soars with its wings held flat, which differs from the Buzzard's V-shape, though its barn door size is difficult to miss.

They can spend 90% of the time perched or standing on the ground looking mean, especially if the weather is poor. The males are slightly smaller than the females. They moult slowly and continuously throughout the year so they can always fly or pick on people they don't like. Their call is a dog like yapping "kew, kew, kew" with most calls being made during courtship or near their nest.

White-tailed Eagles are carrion feeders and opportunistic hunters, stealing food from other birds and even mugging otters! They will hunt singly or in pairs and, being such enormous birds, they like big prey. They normally eat fish like cod, herring or trout, but will also eat birds like ducks and gulls, and medium-sized mammals. When fishing, they fly low over the water, stop to hover for a moment, then drop to snatch a fish from the surface.

White-tailed Eagles pair for life and perform a stunning sky dance when courting where they touch talons. They build their nest in a large tree or on a cliff edge, making it from large sticks and driftwood, then lining it with grass and seaweed. A nest can be reused for many years and gets huge with the yearly added material. Two eggs are laid in April which are incubated by mum and hatch 38 days later. Both parents care for the young who can fly after 70 days. They are fed for a further month until they are ready to leave home. The young eagles will roam widely to find a place of their own.

The White-tailed Eagle suffered a massive decline because of persecution in Victorian times and nesting failures caused by various chemical pesticides and organic compounds. It is now specially protected and has been reintroduced in Scotland, where there is now a small population of 150 pairs that is growing slowly. Some threats still remain, notably illegal persecution by gamekeepers, the activities of egg thieves and fatal damage to birds from wind turbines.

Their Latin name is 'haliaeetus albicilla' where 'haliaeetus' means 'sea-eagle', from the Ancient Greek 'hali' for 'sea' and 'aetos' for 'eagle'. The 'albicilla' part means 'white-tailed' from the Latin 'albi' for 'white' and 'cilla' for 'tail'.

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is mainly found in the remote Scottish mountains. Gamekeepers and egg collectors almost persecuted it to extinction, but it is now specially protected and numbers are slowly increasing. In their natural environment, Golden Eagles are fairly long-living, often reaching the ripe old age of thirty-two.

The Golden Eagle is much larger than a Buzzard, in fact it is nearly twice the size. They are a uniform dark brown with a yellow brown head and looking all dark from below (unlike a Buzzard). They have a wingspan of over two metres and their tail and head protrudes prominently when flying. Their flight is slow and laboured with deep wingbeats, though the Golden Eagle mostly soars and glides, holding their wings in a shallow ‘V’ where their fingered wing tips are obvious to see. They have massive yellow feet, perfect for catching medium-sized animals. The female is bigger than the male and the youngsters differ from their parents by having white patches on their wings and tail. It takes a young Golden Eagle seven years to reach its full adult plumage. For a bird that is so big, they make very little noise, using their excellent eyesight to find a mate instead of calling for one. The only sound they ever make is a rare yelping “kyek” call.

Golden Eagles hunt during daylight hours. They often go for days without food then have a huge feast. They eat mammals (like mountain hares, rabbits, squirrels, and young foxes), birds (like grouse, crows, and gulls) and carrion. Golden Eagles maintain some of the largest known territories of any bird species, which can be as big as 200 square km!

They are monogamous and remain together for life. The courtship includes undulating display flights by both birds. The male picks up a piece of rock or a small stick and drops it, then enters into a steep dive to catch it in mid-air, repeating this three or more times. In response, the female takes a clump of earth, drops it and catches it in the same fashion. So, she gets a nice rock, and he gets dirt. Pretty normal relationship then.

An Eagle’s nest, called an ‘eyrie’, is an extensive structure of branches, usually built on a cliff ledge. Two eggs are laid some days apart in March and mum does most of the incubation. Each egg hatches after 43 days. If there is not enough food available, the elder chick will kill the younger one, so it is common for only one chick to be raised. It pays to be nice to your older brother or sister. Both mum and dad feed what chicks there are. The youngsters can fly after 65 days. The parents will carry on feeding them for a further 3 months until, by autumn, they are fully independent. The young Golden Eagles wander widely until they establish a territory for themselves. This can take up to four or five years.

The Golden Eagle is mainly resident with only the young wandering from the breeding site. There are 440 pairs distributed in the wilder parts of Scotland. Their Latin name is ’aquila chrysaetos’ where ’aquila’ is Latin for ‘eagle’ and ’chrysaetos’ is Ancient Greek for ‘golden eagle’ from ’khrusos’, ‘gold’ and ’aetos’, ‘eagle’. Double eagle in case you forgot how big they are.

Goshawk

The Goshawk is the ultimate, deadly woodland predator. Its wings are tailor-made for weaving through trees at up to 40km per hour as it hunts birds and mammals, catching them after a short, fast chase. It is known as the phantom of the forest as it is incredibly elusive and best seen in March when displaying above the trees. And you thought it was safe to go into the woods.

Goshawks are a big hawk, almost the size of a Buzzard but with shorter wings and a longer tail. They look a like a huge Sparrowhawk being dark grey-brown above, white and finely barred below, with a dark head, and having broad bands on their tail. With a hooked bill, yellow eyes, white eyebrow, and dark cheeks, they have a fierce, hooded appearance. A bird not to be messed with. The female is larger than the male and browner. Sparrowhawks are only half the size of a Goshawk by comparison. When soaring, Goshawks hold their wings flat with three or four fingers showing at the end. The wing looks like it has an S-curve along the back edge. They are stealthily silent, only making a "gek-gek-gek" call when nesting.

Such a big bird needs a big meal. They like to eat mammals like squirrels and rabbits (even taking small hares) and birds like Woodpigeons, Jays, Starlings, Thrushes, Crows, and Pheasants (which doesn't make them popular with gamekeepers). Their prey is caught after a short, fast, low flight, crashing through vegetation in pursuit and even chasing on foot!

Goshawks are generally solitary, except when nesting. They perform a fantastic sky dance to each other when courting in March. Once paired, they build a nest of sticks high up in a large tree and line it with things like pine needles. They will often reuse old nests. The 3-4 eggs hatch after 35 days and the young are fed and tended by mum for the first 10 days. She will fiercely attack anything that comes near, including humans! Mum stays on the nest while dad hunts for food. He calls when approaching to let her know it is him so she doesn't beat him up. The young can fly after 35 days but hang around on a nearby branch for 10 days before finally leaving. The girls leave after the boys as, being larger, they take a bit more feeding before they are ready. All the young have dispersed by late summer though they do not move far from their original breeding sites.

There are 600 pairs of Goshawks scattered across Britain with the greatest numbers in Wales and Southern Scotland. Their numbers are slowly increasing from being all but extinct a hundred years ago due to the loss of woodland habitat and persecution from gamekeepers. They are now protected by law. Their rate of increase has been improved by the planting of coniferous forests but hampered by egg collectors who steal their eggs. Habitat loss and persecution remains a threat for the Goshawk. Goshawks that survive their first two years can expect to live 11 years. The oldest known bird lived to be 19. The squirrels kept their distance.

Their Latin name is 'accipter gentilis' where 'accipiter' means 'hawk', from 'accipere' 'to grasp' and 'gentilis' means 'noble' or 'gentle' because in the Middle Ages only the nobility were permitted to fly goshawks for falconry. The English name comes from 'goose-hawk' as sometimes they even hunt geese!

Kestrel

The Kestrel is best known for its hovering, like a harrier jump jet, above motorway verges and railway embankments. It is a pigeon sized falcon with a short neck, long wings, and long tail. The male Kestrel has a grey head, spotted chestnut back, grey tail with a black band, and buff underparts with dark spots. The wings are held straight in flight with a contrasting light inner wing and dark outer wing, giving them a black tipped look. The female Kestrel is slightly larger, has a more barred back, more streaked breast, and a brown head. You mainly hear Kestrels when they are being mobbed, issuing a yikkering "ke ke ke" call.

The Kestrel hunts for food in daylight and at dusk, hovering with its tail fanned and wings flapping or holding position effortlessly in a head wind. They drop from the sky or perch to feed on shrews, mice, moles, baby rabbits, chicks of ground-nesting birds and especially voles (particularly the yummy short-tailed ones). They will also eat large insects. When a tasty morsel is sighted, the Kestrel glides gently down and at the last-minute lifts its wings above its back to pounce on to its prey. The Kestrel can see near ultraviolet light, allowing it to detect the urine trails around rodent burrows (as they shine in the ultraviolet part of sunlight) like a pee seeking missile. The average Kestrel needs to eat 4-8 voles a day.

Kestrels nest in barns, holes in trees or the disused nests of larger birds. It does not build a nest of its own as such. When the 4-6 eggs are laid, both parents will sit on the eggs which hatch after 30 days. Mum looks after the kids for the first 14 days, letting dad know all about it by issuing a very quarrelsome "wik wik wik wik" call. Once the youngsters get a little bigger, they are fed by both parents. They fly after 30 days but rely on mum and dad for a further month while learning to hunt and hover. The youngsters need to eat 3-4 voles each per day to, so feeding a family of 6 is a lot of voles (24)! On average, only 2-3 chicks usually survive.

The Kestrel is a widespread, sedentary resident with about 50,000 pairs in Britain. It is scarce in mountain and urban areas. Sadly, like so many birds of prey, the Kestrel is in decline. Modern farming leaves less land to support the voles and small mammals they eat. The name Kestrel comes from the French 'crecelle' meaning 'rattle' - a reference to its yikkering call. The Latin name is 'falco tinnunculus' where 'falco' derives from 'falcis' for 'sickle' because of the shape of the claws and 'tinnunculus' from 'tinnulus' meaning 'shrill'. An archaic name for a Kestrel is a windhover which sums it up perfectly. I have no idea why we went all French.