Raptors in winter

A Red Kite at Sherborne Park Estate, where the first breeding pair in Gloucestershire were recorded in 2013

Our raptor chicks from spring have since successfully fledged from their cosy nests around the Sherborne Park Estate. Once they’ve been successfully reared, young red kites, barn owls, and buzzards leave their parents and travel off on a ‘raptor gap year’ before settling down in a territory of their own.

Off-season homes

During the winter, the birds establish a number of winter roosts. One such roost, located in a remote part of the Windrush valley, houses between 70 and 80 birds. They can frequently be seen out and about hunting for food.

Special visitors

It is also in winter that some rare migrants might drop by. Ospreys, travelling to and from their breeding grounds further north occasionally stop by for a meal from the Sherborne brook. Hen harriers, short eared owls and merlin are rare visitors which have all been spotted, taking advantage of the good numbers of voles and other food sources nearby

Merlin is just one of the many raptors which can be spotted
Merlin is just one of the many raptors which can be spotted

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 outbuildings, 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.

So far the team have identified several pairs of barn owls & buzzards living on the estate, along with a couple of pairs of kites, tawny owls and little owls, and one pair each of hobbies, sparrowhawks and ravens. Kestrels are also frequently seen.

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

Ranger Anna ringing a red kite chick
Ranger Anna ringing a red kite chick

“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.

Buzzard chicks being ringed
Buzzard chicks being ringed on the Sherborne Park Estate