Birds of prey

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  • The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
    The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
  • A large bird or prey in flight preparing to land at its nest
    An osprey lands at its eyrie (image courtesy of RSPB/ Chris Gomersall -
  • Looking up at a brown bird of prey with open wings
    A red kite in flight (image courtesy of RSPB/ Ben Hall -
  • A red kite soaring high up above Scotland
    Red kite

Cutting a striking sight in the skies above Scotland, it’s hard to believe watching them glide elegantly on the air swells that these birds are keen predators. Once numerous around the country, many birds of prey native to the UK are now rare or already extinct. Luckily for us, some of these magnificent species can still be spotted around Scotland in varying habitats and locations and, in the wild, are an awe-inspiring sight to behold.


The most common bird of prey to prowl the skies above the UK, some of the greatest concentrations of buzzards can be found in Scotland. Known as the ‘tourist eagles’, they are often spotted soaring over most sorts of terrain, including woodland, moorland, scrub, pasture and arable fields as well as marshes. They have even been known to frequent large cities, including the skies above Glasgow. Although buzzards tend to hunt small mammals and birds and feed on carrion, they have been known to eat earthworms or insects when their food sources are depleted. Perhaps the most unusual feature of the buzzard is its plaintiff call, something that can often be mistaken for a cat meowing. The best time to try and spot them is in springtime when they tend to call as well as soar and display.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: Throughout Scotland, particularly the lowlands and eastern regions. They breed on most island groups except Shetland and parts of Orkney.


While in winter they embark on an epic flight to the balmy west coast of Africa, ospreys take up residence in Scotland near pine forests, fresh water lochs and rivers from March to August. Although the core population of ospreys in the UK are predominantly found in and around the Highlands (particularly Loch Garten), ospreys can be seen near Wigtown in Dumfries & Galloway and Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire thanks to wildlife reintroduction projects.

There are few breeding pairs left in the wild, and the birds are a protected species in the UK. These medium-sized fish-eating raptors, with their white and black-patch plumage, are often confused for large gulls at a distance and can often be spotted snatching up fish while gliding gracefully above stretches of water.

When to see this species: spring, summer (late March - August)

Where to see this species: Predominantly in the Highlands, though there are some nesting sites in the south of Scotland.


A protected species, kestrels are perhaps the best known of Britain’s raptors. Found all over Scotland, notably at the nature reserves on the Isle of Eigg, Spey Bay, Loch Fleet, Loch of Lintrathen and Roslin Glen, these hunters are often seeing hovering over fields and roadsides hunting small mammals like field voles. In fact, an old name for the species was ‘Wind Hover’. As well as being well-adapted to hovering, they keep their heads still, even in the strong gusts of wind, to improve their view and pinpoint their prey on the ground. Though they are never seen in mountains or dense forest, you can expect to see them in open countryside and towns, as well as nesting in old buildings and trees.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: distributed across Scotland

Red kites

A truly remarkable bird, both in stature and grace, the red kite was saved from extinction by one of the world’s longest running wildlife protection programmes. It has been successfully reintroduced around the UK, particularly in its fiefdom of Scotland. Unmistakeable due to its forked tail and reddish-brown plumage, these birds are a visible fixture in central Scotland all-year round.

The population of these magnificent birds is generally centred around their original release sites in Dumfries & Galloway, Perthshire, around the Black Isle in the northern Highlands and on the outskirts of Aberdeen city. The red kite is perhaps the least predatory of the Scotland’s birds of prey, feasting mainly on worms and carrion. They are wily and opportunistic, being known to hunt small mammals when the occasion arises.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: Predominantly around their re-introduction sites in central Scotland.

Golden eagles

With a stunning wingspan of over 2 m, the golden eagle is a formidable hunter - the second largest bird in the UK after the marginally bigger white-tailed eagle, or sea eagle. Though they tend to feed on rabbits and mountain hare, they have been known to catch foxes, large birds such as grouse and even young deer in their iron-grip talons.

This top predator is rare and is a protected species but can still be found in the remote glens and islands, mountains and moorland of the north and west of Scotland. They settle in tall trees, where they built a nest known as an ‘eyrie’, or in rocky cliff faces. They tend to mate for life, living on average 23 years, and patrol their own traditional hunting and nesting grounds which have been used by generations of their descendants.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: A bird rarely seen other than in remote mountainous or moorland areas in Scotland.