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ID questions about bird of preys in Scotland (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
Location: NE Scotland
Month: August 2020
Habitat: different locations, but mostly moorland

Birds of prey:
In general, I find it harder at times to ID a bird of prey.
- Buzzards are easy as they are extremely common here, make familiar sounds and are often seen near wooded areas.
- I am also familiar with osprey, because I live near a estuary and osprey fish here everyday in summer, with their typical flight pattern, with kinked wings and regular dives.
- Sparrowhawk: I only saw them a few times, but they seem hard to ID when in flight, unless I see a raptor gliding through the forest. The other day I was lucky as two sparrowhawk came to our woods and were making plenty of calls, so I took time to observe them closely. Is there anything else that helps spotting them more often.
- Merlin: once I was in a location where merlin is known to occur, besides many other raptors. Moor slopes along a river valley. I saw a small raptor gliding forward and it landed on a rock boulder. It sat there for quite a while and I thought it was a kestrel. Then it went up to fly forward and low again. It left me doubts whether I might have confused for a merlin and the bird never hovered in the few minutes it flew.
- Now, hen harriers. The other day in the moorland I saw a bird of prey gliding (wings like V shaped) and it showed a distinct black wingtips and light grey body. I was almost convinced it was a hen harrier (as the area is known to have them) and the flight pattern was flap flap and then glide, but then the raptor soared upwards (and I am unsure if hen harriers do this or not). The area is also known for peregrines, merlin and ospreys (there is a lake). I am pretty sure it wasn't a merlin or an osprey. Could I have mistaken it for a peregrine? The bird lacked any of the wings point backwards that often peregrines seem to show.
- Peregrines. I have a App that draws sonograms and identifies birds. It told me a couple of times of a peregrine where I lived. Today it happened again (river tidal bay) and I saw also all the seagulls and oystercatchers flying on mass. But I could not spotted it. Maybe it was a coincidence (and a misidentification from the app) and there was no peregrine. Are peregrines generally hard to see? I only confidently saw them a couple of times (always flying high near mountain slopes and then making their dives). I am guessing that because they fly high, they are hard to spot. Do peregrines make their call often? I have heard it a few times but I am wondering if peregrines fly often in silence, unlike buzzards which are noisy raptors.
- Golden eagle: the other day I was hiking in NE Scotland (Cairngorms mountains), at 1000 meters above sea level (that's alpine mountain territory in Scotland), and I saw a raptor immobile facing or gliding against the wind. This was at high altitude, so I am guessing it wasn't a buzzard, but it could have been a golden eagle (which occur in the area) but also a peregrine or even a kestrel. Do buzzards or kestrel fly high and above high mountains? I usually only see buzzards hunting near wooded lowlands here, but peregrines are common in the mountains. Because the raptor was about 1-2km away (the mountain range in front of the one I was hiking) and it still looked big (I could spot the open wings with binoculars), I was guessing it might have been a golden eagle.
- Last question: do sparrowhawks, kestrels and merlins make their calls often?
It might help if you could make your questions a bit briefer and put question marks after the questions please - it’s a lot of reading to try a extract the identification you are actually asking for. If it’s just general information, the Birds and Birding forum or Advice for Beginners forum will probably get you more detailed responses.

Also, if people do provide you with answers and advice, some acknowledgement would be appreciated!

1. Merlin- What you describe as the behavior sounds spot on for Merlin - perching on low boulders and hunting low over moorland.
2. Sparrowhawk can be seen anywhere/anytime - It may sound obvious but just remember to look up at the sky a lot when your birding. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk can usually be be separated by the flight pattern. Sparrowhawk is usually a “flap” “flap” “glide” or soaring on flat wings in large circles, whereas Kestrel flies with rapid continued wing beats interspersed with loops and sweeps before levelling out to hover before vertical stoops.
3. Hen Harrier - I already answered this in the link to the thread above when you asked about this sighting. The physical description and flight behaviour sound ok for male Hen Harrier. The physical description does not fit Peregrine.
4. Peregrines typically flush up large flocks of waders and gulls when hunting over estuaries. It takes practice and good familiarity with their flight style and silhouette to pick them out in a large flock of several thousand birds in the air but it can be done quite quickly with a good eye - they are not as vocal as Buzzards, more often than not silent outside the breeding season (they vocalise when hunting to establish territory- so maybe there were a couple of newly dispersed young males hunting over the estuary)
5. Golden Eagles and Common Buzzards can be easily confused by the unwary in Scotland as the size of high soaring birds is difficult to judge. With more practice you will be able to ID birds by their shape without relying on plumage - it would help if you got yourself a point and shoot camera as it would give you an opportunity to study at leisure the shapes of distant raptors you see and at least help you start to learn how to tell harriers from falcons, falcons from hawks, buzzards from eagles etc.
6. Most birds of prey are largely silent outside of the mating/breeding season.
Last edited:
1. Merlin- What you describe as the behavior sounds spot on for Merlin - perching on low boulders and hunting low over moorland.

Many thanks for your feedback, Deb.
Always much appreciation for all your support in ID.
I will make my posts more clearer to read from now onwards.

The Hen Harrier sighting was a new one, the third in recent weeks. All in the same area in NE Scotland, but different locations, perhaps 40min drive from each other. All were in moorland.

The possible eagle sighting was above the Cairngorms range. Would buzzards fly above high mountain ranges or would they stick to lowlands and proximity to forests?
Agree entirely with Debs comments. A photo (even a mobile phone pic) would simplify your ID requests. Even poor quality shots can help in many instances

best wishes
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