Birds of Prey

Autumn and winter are the best times to spot birds of prey and a visit to East Yorkshire will help you tick many of these beautiful creatures off your to-see list. Here’s some of the best locations to visit.

#1 Nunburnholme Wold, Yorkshire Wolds

Red Kite (c) Martin BattRed kites have chosen the small village of Nunburnholme in the Yorkshire Wolds as one of their main winter residences in Yorkshire.

With over 60 red kites roosting in surrounding woods this area you are highly likely to see these glorious birds of prey gracefully soaring around the surrounding valleys and rolling countryside.

Nunburnholme is located on the Yorkshire Wolds Way National Trail so there are plenty of walking routes to head out on. Pick a route that takes you along the top of one of the many dales and you could find yourself walking right alongside a red kite effortlessly catching the wind at the top of the valley – a truly awe-inspiring sight.

 

ID Tips: Their forked tail is the clearest indication of a red kite, with no other large UK bird of prey having such a feature. Look out for their red / chestnut body, white wing patches and black winged tips. Kites can also be quite vocal, with an attractive whistling call, unlike the rather more mournful mewing of the buzzard.

#2 Spurn Point and the Outer Humber marshes, Holderness

Adult male peregrine (c) Steve WaterhouseThe Holderness Coast and Humber Estuary is home to an abundance of overwintering wading birds including knot, dunlin and bar-tailed godwits, which also makes this area an ideal winter location for peregrine falcons and our smallest raptor, the merlin.

Welwick Saltmarsh is a fantastic location to view wintering raptors and owls. Short-eared owl, merlin, peregrine, marsh harrier, hen harrier and kestrel are all regularly seen. The large gatherings of waders feeding on the rich mudflats at Spurn also attract aerial predators such as peregrines and merlins.  You may also find short eared owls along with the occasional hen harrier along this coastline venturing out from their winter feeding areas on the salt marshes of the Humber. The bracing walks, unique estuary views and seascapes also make this a perfect place to visit.

Merlin (c) Stefan JohanssonID Tips: The peregrine is a medium-sized of prey with a stocky blue / grey body. Its most distinguishable marking is its black ‘moustache’ and blackish head which contrasts with white face. It has powerful, pointed wings, held close to the body in a steep dive – a preferred hunting technique.
The merlin is the UK’s smallest bird of prey (little larger than a thrush) and has short pointed wings that are also broad at the base. It has a rapid wingbeat and flies relatively close to ground level, relying on a surprise, ambush technique.

#3 Tophill Low, Driffield/Beverley

Barn Owl (c) Elliott NeepAn impressive wetland alongside the River Hull, Tophill Low is the place to go to see barn owls as well as other wildlife including kingfishers, otters and water voles.

The network of marshes, ponds, woodlands and grasslands around the main reservoirs is the best place to roam to spot these secretive, but sought after creatures. Plus, you may also see kestrels, sparrowhawks and occasional visits by marsh harriers too as well as red kites. Don’t forget to look at the main reservoirs as well, as these are packed with wildfowl including occasional treats like the striking smew, and with vast flocks of ducks you can never rule out a visit from a peregrine.

 

ID Tips: With its heart-shaped white face, white chest and buff coloured back and wings, the barn owl is easy to distinguish from other owls. You are most likely to get a sight of this magnificent bird along field and river edges at dusk.

#4 North Cave Wetlands, Brough

Kestrel (c) Bob CoyleNorth Cave Wetlands are awash with wading birds and waterfowl over winter which means peregrines are a regular visitor.

Marsh harriers also increase in their appearances during the colder months along with kestrel and sometimes merlin which can be seen hunting in the grassland areas around the lagoons. Buzzards are a constant feature overhead, as are red kites with increasing frequency.

ID Tips: In level flight, the kestrel can sometimes be confused with a merlin but can be distinguished by its chestnut upper parts and dark outer wings, which are slightly longer than a merlin. With its light and buoyant flight, the ability to hover in completely still air is exclusive to the kestrel, before dropping rapidly onto prey below.

#5 RSPB Blacktoft Sands, near Goole

Hen Harrier (c) Nick BrownThe largest inland reedbed in the country and one of the most northerly outposts for many iconic species that require this kind of habitat, Blacktoft Sands is a well-known winter roost of hen harriers and marsh harriers.

There have also been sightings in the past of the rare Montagu’s harrier lingering around the area after their summer nesting. Plus, the large flocks of wildfowl on the wetlands will also attract regular peregrines and merlins looking for a quick meal, whilst barn owls quarter the nearby field margins and grasslands.

ID Tips: Hen harriers (pictured) fly low with their wings held in a shallow ‘v’. Males are pale, ghostly grey whilst females and juveniles are mottled brown. All have a white rump which helps to distinguish them from marsh harriers, and gives female and juvenile hen harriers the name ‘ringtail’. Marsh harriers are the largest of all the harriers and, whilst they also fly with their wings in a shallow ‘v’, they are distinguished from hen harriers by their larger size, broader wings and the absence of white on their rump.