British Raptors & Conservation

British Diurnal Raptors and Conservation

Birds of prey have been protected by law in this country since the introduction of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The birds and their nests are protected, and anyone harming a bird or nest can be prosecuted.

As raptors are towards the top of the food chain, if their populations are healthy it implies other trophic levels of the food chain are plentiful. When there are problems in the environment it will show in the raptor populations. For example with DDT in the 1950s and 60s which was sprayed onto crops to keep down the numbers of insects. Pigeons ate the grain and then Peregrine Falcons ate the pigeons. The toxins built up in the falcons and had major effects on the fertility – the eggs were not formed properly, the outer shell was thin, and therefore broke very easily.

Golden Eagle (aquila chrysaetos)

Birds of prey you may have seen…

  • A Kestrel is generally the bird you see hovering especially along the motorway verges.
  • The Sparrowhawk is generally the raptor that catches birds in your garden leaving a ring of feathers behind.
  • The Common Buzzard is the large bird circling up high on the warm air currents and screaming to each other.
  • The Peregrine Falcon is nowadays quite often at home in city centre living usually on cathedrals and hunting the pigeons.
  • In Scotland you may be lucky enough to spot a Golden Eagle or White-tailed Sea Eagle in the western isles.
Male Common Kestrel (falco tinnunculous)

There are 15 species of raptor breeding in Britain, the most common species being: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon. These species have been able to adapt very well to man’s changing environment. The species that are not able to do so well usually require specific habitats that have been redeveloped.

SpeciesApprox. No. of PairsStatus in UKOther Notes
Golden Eagle450Amber 
White-tailed Sea Eagle30Red 
Common Buzzard40,000Green 
Marsh Harrier350AmberPartial migrants
Hen Harrier750Red 
Montagu’s Harrier7AmberMigratory
Red Kite1,000Amber 
Osprey160AmberWinter migrant to Africa
Honey Buzzard33-69AmberWinter migrant to Africa
Peregrine Falcon1,400Amber 
Hobby2,200GreenWinter migrant to Africa

Approximate number of pairs from RSPB.

Other raptors seen: Rough-legged Buzzard – winter migrant to the UK.

Species at low levels

The UK has levels of risk of species that are at some risk of extinction in the UK or have dramatically declined recently. A species can be RED listed or AMBER listed. (This is different to the IUCN that classifies birds at different levels as endangered worldwide.)


Most species of raptor are stable in the UK, some species in the past have been heavily persecuted – some to extinction, and others have suffered as a result of pesticide use and habitat destruction. There are 3 species of raptors that have been reintroduced to various parts of the UK. These have all been very successful: White-tailed Sea Eagle, Red Kite and Osprey.