Birds of prey


Introduction - Preliminary Notes


Birds of Prey belong to the order Accipitriformes and are moste diurne birds, they feed on a range of small to medium sized mammals and catch their prey alive. Some larges species live on carrion (vultures)


Despite owls also feeding on live prey they do not belong to the order Accipitriformes but to the order Strigiformes. 


The main characteristics are:


  • strongly hooked billds
  • toes with sharp talons
  • mostly no differences between male and female plumages
  • females mostly larger than males
  • very good flight abilities
  • larger species like soaring within thermals thereby gaining hight and then gliding between thermals, thereby losing hight. Mostly seen from noon onwards when conditions for thermals are best. 


The term birds of prey covers 47 diurne species in three families. The following classification only relates to the Palaearctic region.




Order: Birds of Prey (Accipitriformes)

Family: Eagels and Hawks(Accipitridae)

Subfamily: Goshawks and Sparrowhawks (Accipitrinae)

Species: Goshawks and Sparrowhawks  (Accipiter) 

  • Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
  • Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
  • Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes)

Subfamily: Old World Vultures (Aegypiinae)

Species: Aegypius


  • Cinereus  Vulture (Aegypius monachus)

Species: Gyps


  • Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)
  • Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppelli)


Species: Torgos


  • Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus)


Subfamily: Aquilinae

Species: True Eagles (Aquila)


  • Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
  • Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)
  • Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti)
  • Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina)
  • Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga)
  • Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata)
  • Bonelli's Eagle (Aquila fasciata)


Subfamily: Buteonine Hawks (Buteoninae)

Species: Buzzards (Buteo)


  • Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus)
  • Steppe Buzzard (Bteo buteo vulpinus)
  • Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
  • Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)


Subfamily: Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetinae)

Species: Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus)


  • Short-toed Snake Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Subfamily: Harriers (Circinae)

Species: Harriers (Circus)


  • Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)
  • Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
  • Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus)
  • Pallid Harrier (Circus marcourus)


Subfamily: Elanine Kites (Elaninae)

Species: Black-winged Kites (Elanus)


  • Black-winged Kite (Elanus caeruleus)

Subfamily: Gypaetinae

Species: Gypaetus


  • Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Species: Neophron


  • Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)


Subfamily: Gypaetinae

Species: Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus)


  • White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Subfamily: Milvine Kite (Milvinae)

Species: Milvine Kites (Milvus)


  • Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
  • Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Subfamily: Honey Buzzards (Perninae)

Species: Honey Buzzards (Pernis)


  • European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
  • Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus)

Family: Pandionidae

Subfamily: Pandioninae

Species: Osprey (Pandion)


  • Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)






General Remarks on Buzzards


Buzzards belong to the species Buteo and are distributed in the Palaearctic in four genera:


Bussarde gehören zur Gattung Buteo und kommen in der Paläarktis in vier Arten vor:


  • Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus)
  • Steppe Buzzard (Bteo buteo vulpinus)
  • Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
  • Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)


Common Buzzards are medium-sized birds of prey with broad wings. They love soaring in thermals over fields and meadows during noon. Especially Common Buzzards can be seen in larger numbers soaring in thermals and gliding down to the next thermal.


Another characteristic of the common buzzard is sitting on poles or fences searching fields and meadows waiting for some prey to arrive.


Common Buzzards feed on small rodents, even rats, lizzards and earthworms . 


Common Buzzard


Buzzard buteo buteo
buzzard buteo buteo

Marsh Harrier

Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus
Marsh Harrier
Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus
Marsh Harrier

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)


Profile: What is a common buzzard?


The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is an eagle and belongs to the order Accipitriformes (eagles). However, because of its special character the Osprey is the one and only species of the Pandionidae family. The Osprey has a truly cosmopolitan range and can be found nearly all over the world.


In Europe, until the late 60s of the 20th century hunting brought the osprey near extinction. Nowadays the osprey can be found breeding in central Europe again. The osprey breeds near lakes / lake districts and it is possible to watch the birds hunting over the lakes, when the osprey slides over the lake, sometimes at higher altitudes and also hovering over the water shortly. Fish hunting is done be nose diving into the water, during which the birds shortly immerses in the water and then gets out again with its wings flapping only to continue the flight. Not every attempt at catching a fish is successful.


Size: 52-60 cm

Wingspread: 152-167 cm

Breeding grounds: near freshwater lakes and rivers, also on brackish water in the coastal areas; also on rock cliffs (Australia)

Maturity: Usually the osprey becomes adult in the third year and usually mates for life.

Nest: usually on trees, in certain areas on rock cliffs. The nest consists of large sticks, driftwood and driftwood and can size up to 2 m across

Wintering: European populations winter in North Africa

Diet: Fish 


Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)


The nose dive of an osprey can be seen in the following four pics. That attempt at catching a fish was unsuccessful. In pic four one can see that the bird's feet are empty.


Osprey #1: The osprey is starting its nose dive into the lake
Osprey #2: The osprey shortly before hitting the water surface

Osprey #3: The bird is immersing into the water
Osprey #4: The osprey left the water without any catch

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