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Britain is home to 15 species of raptor, more commonly known as birds of prey. Many of these awesome creatures have been hunted to the brink of extinction over the past few centuries, but thanks to tougher protections and breeding programmes, numbers are starting to rise once again. Here are a few fascinating facts about our birds of prey.
British birds of prey fall into three groups, according to Country Life. These are eagles, which are the largest birds; hawks, the next largest, and falcons.
Birds of prey are of course predatory creatures who eat animal flesh and fish, as well as insect larvae and the eggs of other birds. It is thought by scientists that raptors have many features in common with carnivorous prehistoric dinosaurs who slashed their prey with powerful taloned feet.
Winged creatures capable of flight were thought to be the only species of dinosaur that survived the massive asteroid strike that wiped out most other living creatures during the Jurassic area. Therefore the beautiful but somewhat terrifying raptors that we know today may be the direct ancestors of the dinosaurs.
The females are definitely the boss of couples when it comes to hunting and rearing young. Females are larger in size than males in breeding pairs, enabling her to catch larger prey to feed the offspring.
The male will provide food during the earliest stages of breeding when the eggs and chicks need to be kept warm and dry. As soon as she is able to leave her young, the female will start hunting.
The honey buzzard is so called because it raids the nests of wasps and bees to eat the grubs, rather than the honey as its name suggests. It is similar in appearance to the buzzard, but it is a migratory bird, only seen in woodland areas during the summer months. They are still rare in the UK and overwinter in tropical regions of Africa.
The magnificent golden eagle has a wingspan wider than the height of most men, making it a formidable predator. They are masterful hunters, scooping up mammals and other birds dead or alive. They will most commonly eat rabbits, grouse, and hares, although they are capable of preying on foxes and can carry weights of up to 5kg.
Eagles rely on the surprise low level ambush rather than swooping from great heights. They rarely engage in energy wasting chases, but work in short swift movements.
Many common species of raptor in the UK are non-migratory, including buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels, and peregrines. However, some species make long and arduous journeys across seas and oceans to warmer climates during the winter months.
They use geographical features for navigation, and take advantage of air currents and wind direction to aid their flight.
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