Anna & Lech
Birds of prey
The predatory birds (Falconiformes)
are a very specific and clearly distinguished group. Once upon a time owls Strigiformes belonged to this group, dividing the predacious birds into
those hunting in the daytime and those hunting at night. Later on, due to the considerable differences between these groups of animals and lack of
systematical relation owls were classified in the separate group. The predacious birds are a strongly diverse group as far as the size of body and the
manners of hunting are concerned. They can be divided into five families, three of them existing in Europe: the goshawk-like Accipiteridae, the
ospreys Pandionidae and the falcon-like Falconidae. The goshawk-like family includes goshawks, kites, buzzards, harriers and eagles. These
are birds of large and of average size, interlacing the gliding flight with the phases of active flight. The fish-catchers' family has the only one
representative - the fish catcher which usually flies over waters diving for the trophy. The falcon-like family generally includes little birds with
narrow, sharpened wings reaching during the attack for trophy large speeds of flight. Such birds as kestrels, hobbies, merlin and falcon belong to this
In the past the group of the predatory birds was persecuted by man what resulted in a drastic extinction of these animals in many regions of Europe. Today
all species from this group are protected and the active protection activities bring first visible results.
There are 17 species of predatory birds in Wigry National Park: white-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, Montagu's harrier Circus pygargus, western marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus, hen harrier Circus cyaneus, merlin Falco columbarius, northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis, black kiteMilvus migrans, red kite Milvus milvus, Eurasian hobby Falco subbuteo, Eurasian sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, common buzzard Buteo buteo, lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina, golden eagle Aquila chryzaetos, common kestrel Falco tinnunculus, osprey Pandion haliaetus, peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus and European honey buzzard Pernis apivorus.
Northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis
is the greatest representative of goshawks' family in Europe, its body is 53-66 cm long, the spread of wings is 105-120 cm and the weight reaches 500-1300
g. The female weighs as much as twice in comparison to the male. It lives in a different types of forests in the vicinity of open space. Goshawk is a
universal predator - it hunts both in the air, on the shore as well as on the water surface. It is able to hunt for and catch a partridge, a pheasant or a
black grouse as well as a squirrel, a hare or a rabbit. The main food of goshawks is however raven-like birds; mainly rooks, crows and pigeons. It flies
quickly and swiftly, comparatively short wings and a long tail help it to make sudden turns and attacks. The breeding season starts once a year in April -
the female lays 3-5 eggs which are then incubated by her. It willingly occupies nests of other birds of prey situated in the crowns of high trees - mostly
pines and oaks. The role of the male is to feed the female. Young goshawks are able to fly about 40 days after hatching. This bird does not travel
regularly; when the breeding season is over it bivouacs.
Eurasian sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus also belongs to the goshawks' family. Its body is 30-40 cm long, the spread of wings is 60-80 cm and the weight reaches 150-300 g. Just like a goshawk the
female is considerably bigger than the male. It lives on the edges of forests and the field forestation. It often spends the winter period in the vicinity
of buildings. It waits in ambush for its victim. The main food of a sparrow-hawk is mostly small birds, especially the sparrow-like birds. This bird plays
an important role in regulating the number of sparrows and tree sparrows. When the trophy is caught it is taken into a quiet and safe place where its
plumage is taken off. The nest is built on a spruce, not very high, right next to the trunk. The inside of the nests is covered with the pine bark. In May
the female lays 4-6 eggs which are incubated by her for 33 days. Young sparrow-hawks are at first covered with the white down. Adult sparrow-hawks lead a
settled lifestyle, however in most cases the young wander over the southern or western Europe.
Common buzzard Buteo buteo is one of the most common birds of prey. Its body is about 55 cm long, the spread of wings varies from 111 to 137 cm, the weight reaches 700-1200 g. The female is greater than the male. It build its nests in the forests of different types. The main food is mice, field-voles and moles; it also eats
amphibians, reptiles, insects and nestlings of other birds. It does not despise the carrion. The breeding season lasts from April to June and at this time
the female lays 2-3 eggs which are incubated by both parents in the nest located in the crowns of high pines, oaks and alders. The young are hatched after
about 30 days and they are able to fly between 41 and 49 day of their lives. One can admire this bird in the breeding areas from February till September.
Some buzzards fly south when the winter period comes, the rest stays together with the buzzards from the north and they both find their food on the fields.
Western marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus
is a bit smaller than a buzzard, its body is about 50 cm long, the spread of wings is about 140 cm, the weight varies from 500 to 700 g. The female is a
bit bigger than the male. This bird is comparatively slow and it flies just over the ground, making sudden turns and attacking the trophy in a sudden
manner. As far as plumage is concerned it is different from other harriers (Circus cyaneus and
Circus pygargus) as it never has a white base of the tail. It
finds its food on the fields, meadows and swamps but it avoids the forests. The nests are built in the thick reeds. The breeding season starts in May or
June when the female lays 3-6 of eggs which are then incubated by her. Both the male and the female look after the nestlings for some time before they
leave their nest. The main food is eggs and the nestlings of birds and other small vertebrates. When the breeding season is over it lives alone or in the
loose groups. It is a wandering species; it flies to us in March and April and flies away in September and October. It spends the winter period in Africa.