Birds of Prey stamps
There’s something almost primeval about spotting a bird of prey, whether it’s soaring overhead, diving to catch its prize, or biding its time as it observes its target. Also known as raptors, they’re the only birds who catch prey with their feet. Each one has a distinctive hunting style. During the day, you’ll mainly see the diurnal hawks, eagles and falcons, and the very occasional owl, since most owls are nocturnal by nature.
In the light of conservation concerns about many of our magnificent birds of prey, measures are being taken to reintroduce some of them to the wild.
Birds of prey most in peril
White-tailed eagle (haliaeetus albicilla)
This is one of the birds most under threat. In summer 2019, the white-tailed eagle will be reintroduced to the Isle of Wight, a location chosen carefully to suit these coast-loving birds. Each year from until 2024, a small number of birds will be brought from Scotland and carefully monitored. It’s hoped they might gradually spread to the South Central and South East areas of England.
Birds of prey at medium risk
Golden Eagle (aquila chrysaetos)
Capturing the essence of these beautiful birds on camera is a lifelong ambition of many wildlife photographers – golden eagles are a major driver of tourism in some parts of Scotland. Their massive wing span makes them one of the easiest raptors to identify. They hunt hares, mountain rabbits, foxes and even other large birds like grouse. The name comes from the colour of the feathers on their neck and head. These birds mate for life.
Red Kite (milvus milvus)
Red kites, once thought to be in danger of dying out, are now breeding well in the UK: there are at least 900 pairs in Wales alone. These scavengers are also found in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They consume roadkill and animal remains. Their long wings, forked tail, and, of course, their red colour make them easy to identify.
Peregrine Falcon (falco peregrines)
In the middle of the twentieth century numbers of these raptors were falling, but have recovered in recent years. Many now seem to prefer urban life: you’ll sometimes see them watching the world go by from bridges, cathedrals and other high buildings. They hunt birds up to and including the size of large gulls. Peregrine falcons move incredibly fast: they can fly at around 200mph.
Merlin (falco columbarius)
This bird, the smallest raptor in the UK, preys on larks and meadow pipits. You’ll find them snuggled beneath the upland heather in spring and summer. In autumn, they relocate to the lowlands.. Females and youngsters are brown, while you can recognise males by their blue-black back feathers. Merlins are also part of the falcon family.
Kestrel (falco tinnunculus)
At present kestrels are not endangered, but numbers have declined by 40% in the last twenty years. This is thought to mainly be due to reductions in suitable nesting locations and traditional hunting grounds. Kestrels are particularly attractive birds of prey, with distinctive chestnut brown feathers. Females have bars on their red tails; males have grey heads and a tail with a band of black at the tip. These birds enjoy hunting voles and mice, hovering over their prey before descending in stages.
Birds of prey at lower risk
While we need to do everything we can to ensure numbers don’t drop any further, some birds of prey are still relatively healthy, numbers-wise.
Buzzard (buteo buteo)
Although numbers seemed to be falling in the 1970s, buzzards are now one of our more common birds of prey. They are known for scavenging road kill, often putting them in danger from traffic. They have a very distinctive cry, a kind of mew, and they come in all shades of brown, from pale cream to deepest brown. You’ll often see them literally sitting on the fence by the roadside or exploring ploughed farmland in winter.
Goshawk (accipiter gentilis)
If you take a walk in the forest, you may come across this grey and white bird of prey, with distinctive horizontal stripes on the breast of adults, and vertical brown lines of juveniles. Their wing shape means they can easily navigate dense woodland. They can hunt mammals up to the size of a hare. Spring is the best time to see these raptors in action.
Hobby (falco subbuteo)
This charmingly named bird migrates to the UK from Africa each spring, in order to breed. It looks like a very large swift, with deft and graceful movements in flight. You’ll often find them near large bodies of water, feasting on dragonflies and insects. Swifts and swallows are also sometimes taken by this bird to feed its young.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
One of our most common birds of prey, if one of these takes up residence in your garden, you’ll recognise its yellow eyes and thin, long legs. Females are considerably larger than the males; both hunt small birds. Sparrowhawks typically have families of up to five young, although only around a third survive their first year.
Where to see birds of prey
Some smaller birds of prey, like sparrowhawks, are seen relatively frequently in domestic gardens, while if you want to see a golden eagle, head for the highlands. If the Scottish mountains are too far away from you, many bird sanctuaries around the UK have resident golden eagles.
Capturing any bird of prey on camera is a real achievement, and the stunning new stamps from the Royal Mail show some of our most distinctive birds, some in flight, some at rest. All images were captured by photographer Tim Flach, and are courtesy of the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Newent, Gloucestershire.
Whether you’re a bird lover, a raptor enthusiast, a keen photographer or artist, looking for a great gift for Father’s Day, birthdays or other anniversaries, or you just want to brighten up a letter or a postcard, these stamps will delight you with their detail and definition.