Raptors at Sherborne

The Sherborne Park Estate is a haven for birds of prey – also known as raptors. The variety of habitats on the estate mean that different species can be seen in different locations, and wherever you are the chances are high that you’re being watched by a pair of powerful eyes. Look up at the sky anywhere on the estate and you’re likely to see buzzards or kites soaring overhead.

Making a home

The reason that raptors do so well here is largely down to the way the land is managed by our ranger team and tenant farmers. Trees are maintained across the estate, which together with quiet agricultural outbuilding provide plenty of nesting sites for birds.

Areas of woodland and rough grassland provide homes for small mammals such as mice, rabbits and squirrels, which in turn become prey for the raptors. They’ll also eat frogs, toads and large insects such as mayflies, which are all plentiful in the waterways on the estate.  This varied and abundant ecosystem means that the estate can support a good number of predators.

Countryside Manager Simon Nicholas said: “We’ve identified eight species of resident raptors on the estate, We also get visiting birds who come to the estate on their way elsewhere – once I saw an osprey fly-past!

Over the winter there's always the chance of a Peregrine, Short Eared Owl or Hen Harrier"

So far team have found a number of pairs of barn owls, tawny owls, little owls and buzzards breeding on the estate, as well as several pairs of red kites, kestrels, hobbies, sparrowhawks and ravens.

Sherborne's diverse habitats support many different wildlife species
Waterfowl on the Broadwater
Sherborne's diverse habitats support many different wildlife species

Monitoring numbers

Monitoring Sherborne’s raptor populations helps us to know which types of birds are in the area, and what kind of work we need to do to help them thrive. Ranger Anna Field said: “We’ve been working with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to install barn owl boxes and to ring the young owlets for a couple of years now

“Ringing allows us to track survival rates and geographical dispersal of the birds, and we have plans to extend this form of tagging to other raptor species on the estate.

“We also collect pellets (droppings) which provide information about a bird’s diet. This allows us to track changes over time and through different seasons.”

By working with partner organisations such as Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology, we can share our findings and contribute to best practice on how to support these bird populations.

Raptor highlights at Sherborne
A barn owl in flight

Barn owls

Barn owls are best seen at dusk, hovering over field margins and rough grassland. They are known as the ghost-bird for a reason: they almost seem translucent or glow soft white in the half-light. Their bodies appear very front-heavy, tapering from their big round head to a slender back end with a rounded tail that stabilises them whilst hovering. Their wings are very broad, but the specialised feathers and also the downy feathers on the legs and wings mean that they hardly make a sound when flying - useful for hunting small mammals with good hearing.

Buzzard

Buzzards

Buzzards are now the most common bird of prey in the UK. They are one of the larger species, with broad wings and a short neck and fan-like tail. You’ll often see them soaring over wooded hillsides and fields in fine weather, and might hear their plaintive, mewing call that sounds slightly like a cat.

Close picture of hobby taking a mayfly on the wing

Hobbies

Hobbies are the classic ‘falcon’ shape with long pointed wings, but they’re quite small compared to other birds of prey - in fact they can look like small peregrine falcons. They will occasionally hunt on the ground but most of their prey is caught ‘on the wing’, with their agility and rapid acceleration allowing them to chase down big insects and small birds such as swallows and martins.

red kite

Red Kites

Adult kites are pretty big compared to other birds of prey. They have a ‘M’ or bow shape to their wings and a deeply forked tail. Their wing-beats can appear laboured or lazy and when they soar their wing feathers form wonderful broad ‘fingers’. They also have distinctive white markings on their wings.