Bird Watching – Wild Birds of Prey Centres

In October 2009 we interviewed John Loder, RSPB Campaign Talks Officer, about the RSPB’s Birds of Prey Campaign. In many countries around the world wild birds of prey are under threat from habitat loss and systematic killing. In some cases reintroduction programmes are helping to restore bird numbers. For example, Red Kites in the Chilterns and Mid Wales and Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland.

Whilst out walking, hiking, camping or climbing you may be lucky enough to spot wild birds of prey. If not, where can you see birds of prey? The answer is RSPB Bird Watching Centres. There are many of these across the UK. Below are a list of the wildlife centres where it is most likely to be able to spot a wild bird of prey. If you are new to bird watching, you may also be interested in our guide to bird watching gear.

Bird of Prey, the Peregrine Falcon
You could be lucky enough to see a Peregrine Falcon in flight. Source: Flickr by Michael ‘Mike’ L. Baird.

RSPB Bird Watching Centres in the UK

England – Lake District

RSPB Haweswater

Nearest town: Penrith, Cumbria
Grid reference: NY469108
Birds of Prey: Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Buzzards

Golden eagles are resident at Haweswater. If you visit between April and August the viewpoint is open and there will be experts on hand to show you the birds. If a pair is present, you can see their nesting activity.

Peregrines nest on the rocky crags around Haweswater. These falcons can be spotted flying across skies, although it can take much patient observing before one comes into view.

Buzzards can be seen circling overhead at any time of the year. If you visit during the summer it is possible to see the young birds perfecting their flying technique.

RSPB Leighton Moss

Nearest town: Carnforth, Lancashire
Grid reference: SD478750
Birds of Prey: Marsh Harriers

During the spring displaying marsh harriers can be seen at Leighton Moss. In the summer males and females can often be seen hunting over the reedbed, getting food for their young.

Forestry Commission Whinlatter Forest Park

Grid Reference: NY209245
Birds of Prey: Ospreys (live video cameras showing Opsrey nests during the summer.)

More information can also be found on the Osprey Watch website.

North Wales

RSPB Ynys-hir

Nearest town: Machynlleth, Powys
Grid reference: SN682961
Birds of Prey: Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites


RSPB Loch of Kinnordy

Nearest town: Kirriemuir, Angus
Grid reference: NO361539
Birds of Prey: Ospreys

In the spring ospreys return from their African wintering grounds. It is possible to observe them fishing at Loch of Kinnordy.

RSPB Inversaid

Nearest town: Aberfoyle, Stirling
Grid reference: NN337090
Birds of Prey: Buzzards, Hen Harrier

RSPB Loch Garten

Nearest town: Aviemore, Highland
Grid reference: NH978183
Birds of Prey: Ospreys (live video cameras showing Opsrey nests during the summer.)

Enjoy the antics of the famous breeding pair of ospreys from the comfort of the Osprey centre. You can also see live video footage of the action – beamed to the centre direct from the nest.

RSPB Forsinard Flows

Nearest town: Thurso, Highland
Grid reference: NC891425
Birds of Prey: Hen Harriers

Hen harriers can be seen at any time of year at Forsinard. You may be lucky enough to see one hunting close to the road – a car makes an excellent hide.

A short eared owl bird of prey
The short eared owl can be seen at RSPB reserves on the Orkney Islands. Source: Flickr by snappybex.

Orkney Islands

Hen harriers breed on the moorland in the Orkney Islands and can be seen scouting for prey. The males are grey and the females are rich brown in colour.

Our smallest falcon, the merlin, is not much bigger than a mistle thrush. If you keep your eyes peeled you might be lucky enough to see one on a high-speed hunt.

The afternoons are a good time to spot short-eared owls. They can be seen hunting over the farmland all year. Watch them banking and gliding just above the ground as they search for voles moving in the grass.

RSPB Cottascarth and Rendall Moss

Nearest town: Kirkwall, Mainland
Grid reference: HY369195
Birds of Prey: Hen Harriers, Merlins, Short Eared Owls

RSPB Birsay Moors

Nearest town: Kirkwall, Mainland
Grid reference: HY340240
Birds of Prey: Hen Harriers, Short Eared Owls

RSPB Trumland, Rousay

Nearest town: Kirkwall, Mainland, Orkney
Grid reference: HY427275
Birds of Prey: Hen Harriers, Merlins, Short Eared Owls

Birds of Prey – Quick Reference Guide

Golden Eagle – All year round

It lives in the wild, open moorlands and mountains of Scotland, favouring islands and remote glens. Best looked for soaring high over hillsides in the Scottish Highlands. The few English eagles can be looked for at the RSPB’s Haweswater reserve and watchpoint in Cumbria.

Peregrine Falcons – All year round

Found along rocky seacliffs and the uplands of the UK are both good places in the breeding season. East coast marshes where there are large gatherings of birds can be a good place in the winter.

Red Kites – All year round

At one time confined to Wales, a reintroduction scheme has brought them back to many parts of England and Scotland. Central Wales, central England – especially the Chilterns, central Scotland – at Argaty, and along the Galloway Kite Trail are the best areas to find them.

Osprey – March to September

Its main UK stronghold is in Scotland – nest sites with public viewing facilities are at Loch Garten, Speyside, and Loch of the Lowes, Perth. It recently began breeding in England at Bassenthwaite, Cumbria, where there is a public viewpoint, at Rutland Water (where it was introduced), and a pair can also be found in Wales in the Glaslyn valley where there is a public viewpoint. Can be seen at almost any large body of freshwater during spring and autumn migration.

Buzzards – All year round

Greatest numbers in Scotland, Wales, the Lake District and SW England. Found on farmland with wooded hills, moorland and in more arable areas to the east where it is spreading. Look for birds soaring over wooded hillsides in fine weather, or perched on fence posts and pylons.

Marsh Harriers – April – Sept/Oct

Mainly found in eastern and south-east England, with some in the north-west, south-west and Scotland. Seen over reedbeds and marshes, as well as farmland near wetlands. Marsh harriers can be seen at: Elmley, Kent; Leighton Moss, Lancashire; Minsmere, Suffolk; Titchwell Marsh and Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk; Ouse and Nene Washes, Cambs, and Blacktoft Sands, Yorkshire. Other nature reserves with marsh harriers include Stodmarsh, Kent and Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire.

Hen Harriers

Upland breeding areas: March – Aug/Sept,
Lowland: Oct – March

The hen harrier lives in open areas with low vegetation. In the breeding season UK birds are to be found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Those found in eastern and south-east England are probably mostly visitors from mainland Europe.

Merlin – All year round

Birds leave their upland breeding areas between August and october. They return again in April and May.

The UK breeding population is at the south-west extremity of the merlin’s European range, and is thinly scattered across upland moorland from south-west England north to Shetland. In winter birds leave upland areas and come down to inland lowland and coastal areas. They can be seen in almost any open country but are often found near coasts. They can be found at roosts in reedbeds, bogs and on heaths, often with hen harriers.


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