FIVE MORE BRI­TISH RAPTORS

Countryfile Magazine - - The Hunt -

KESTRELS

Kestrels de­serve their old name of ‘wind­hover’. I once filmed one hang­ing in the air, then re­wound the record­ing at high speed. The kestrel’s body writhed madly but its eye never budged in the frame. Hav­ing such a high, steady view­point makes it easy to spot move­ment be­low and al­lows kestrels to drop like bolts from the blue onto mice, voles and even lizards. Their ul­tra­vi­o­let vi­sion helps them spot trails of ro­dent urine, which is vis­i­ble at that wave­length. Rough grass­land on mo­tor­way verges makes an ideal home for voles, which is why hov­er­ing kestrels are a fa­mil­iar sight dur­ing car jour­neys. They hunt in many other open ar­eas through­out the coun­try.

HOB­BIES

Hob­bies are beau­ti­ful fal­cons, like slim, bal­letic pere­grines, which spe­cialise in high-speed aerial pur­suit in the open sky. Shaped al­most like gi­ant swifts, they mi­grate to and from Africa, hunt­ing swal­lows and martins in flight and at roosts, of­ten stoop­ing on them, then sweep­ing up from be­hind and be­low.

I have filmed hob­bies in Dorset in sum­mer, snatch­ing dragon­flies above heath­land pools, swing­ing their long legs for­ward for the catch. They ate the in­sects in flight but, as­ton­ish­ingly, some dragon­flies evaded the birds by throw­ing them­selves into the wa­ter. Hob­bies may gather to feed on swarms of fly­ing ants and even oc­ca­sion­ally

hunt bats at dusk.

HEN HAR­RI­ERS

Hen har­ri­ers quar­ter their moor­land nest­ing ar­eas (and coastal marshes in win­ter), glid­ing low into the wind to save en­ergy, with their long-wings an­gled up­wards. If a pipit flushes from the heather be­low, the har­rier will flare its wings and tail, ex­plod­ing into en­er­getic pur­suit. When male har­ri­ers re­turn to their nests with food they drop it to their mates in spec­tac­u­lar aerial food passes.

They are il­le­gally killed on some shoot­ing es­tates be­cause they some­times take grouse chicks: as a re­sult hen har­ri­ers are al­most ex­tinct as breed­ing birds in Eng­land.

BUZ­ZARDS

Buz­zards are gen­er­al­ist hun­ters, now re­cov­er­ing from per­se­cu­tion in parts of the UK. They of­ten hunt by swoop­ing on to prey af­ter soaring re­con­nais­sance flights, some­times hov­er­ing in strong winds, or watch­ing pa­tiently from posts where they stand hunched, giv­ing the false im­pres­sion that they are pay­ing no at­ten­tion.

They take a wide range of small mam­mals (es­pe­cially voles and young rab­bits) as well as birds, rep­tiles and even am­phib­ians. Find­ing spawn on top of a fen­ce­post in the spring is a sure sign that a buz­zard has been hunt­ing frogs. Af­ter rain you might see them pot­ter­ing about in fields, pick­ing up worms.

RED KITES

Red kites’ long wings and their highly mo­bile tails en­able them to stay aloft in light winds with min­i­mal ef­fort. It’s a great strat­egy for search­ing large ar­eas where food is scarce. Red kites have re­cov­ered well fol­low­ing rein­tro­duc­tion projects, ex­cept where they are still shot or poi­soned.

They have a very wide diet, of­ten eat­ing car­rion, in­clud­ing road­kill and dead sheep. Kites eas­ily swoop to grab in­sects and other small an­i­mals from the ground with­out stop­ping. They are op­por­tunis­tic; some­times fol­low­ing ploughs to catch voles and even worms as they are un­cov­ered. I once filmed one steal­ing a freshly caught fish from an os­prey.

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