Migrant Raptors?

Raptor migration in the UK. Does it really occur within Common Buzzards and Red Kite with the regularity some believe and frequently report? I’m prompted to comment on this having seen 3 Red Kite and c10 Common Buzzard today. I think the more romantically minded want to imagine they are witnessing some great intercontinental raptor movements but I don’t believe that!


Red Kite (south bound) from the flat window today.

From my perspective I see both these species with regularity here in Sussex. Common Buzzard breed in good numbers locally with a pair or two near Beachy Head itself. I concede they’re less apparent during the winter months but not wholly absent. Whether thats because they are less active (not displaying, defending territories or feeding young) or they actually vacate the area I’m unsure. Red Kites are easier to assess. They do not breed near by and most of the observations (98%) occur within the period of late March to early May. Often facilitated by a NW airflow. Also there have been instances where groups observed here at Beachy Head have been reported earlier over sites to the north of here. A case in point came last spring when a group of 7 circled the headland on 24th March 2015 that had been seen 30 minutes earlier over Lewes which is about 8 miles to the NW of Beachy Head. They are established to the north and west of here which does tie in nicely with the link to the prevailing winds that most birds are seen on.


Common Buzzard over Beachy Head last summer.

Both these species have under gone huge population expansions within UK. Not caused by mass migration from the continent but from conservation measures undertaken within the UK itself. Buzzards have benefited from a reduction in persecution, a recovery from the effect of DDT and a recovery of the rabbit population from myxomatosis. Red Kite’s have recovered from near extinction as a UK breeding species, mainly through reintroduction programs. It’s also worth noting that the last corner of the UK to re-establish Buzzards & Kites is Kent, the part of the country which would receive most of the “phantom migrants”! It makes no sense. It does make sense when you consider most of the colonisers are coming from the expanding UK populations from the north and west.


Red Kite over Beachy Head last April.

I have seen undeniably bonifide migrant raptors here over the last few springs. An Osprey and a Black Kite. Both arrived at low height, in keeping with having just made a long sea crossing, and both quickly continuing in a northerly direction. Their actions were purposeful and strongly suggests active migration is taking place. I haven’t seen any Common Buzzards or Red Kites do that, which supports my belief these birds are inland loafers pushed up against the coast. I know there are examples of UK wing tagged Red Kites occurring on mainland Europe and I have seen Common Buzzards arrive on the North Kent coast in September (on one occasion when that was replicated at other east coast sites & before they had re-established themselves in Kent) so I can’t deny it happens. Although I strongly believe 99% of those I see here are UK birds. There is definitely cause to celebrate their return but it’s a fantasy to think all birds seen on the coast have just jumped the channel.


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