We see them soaring over Schloss Leizen, perched on trees and posts along the roadside and occasionally swooping for prey, but did you know the area around Germany For Kids is one of the best places in Northern Europe to spot eagles, hawks and falcons, known as “birds of prey”?
There are 11 species of birds of prey which we regularly see in our area, that’s quite exceptional, plus a few more that we see occasionally. Our area is the least populated in Germany and also has very little industry, this means we are surrounded by endless forest, lakes and farmland, a perfect habitat for birds of prey. Take a look at the end of this post for English / German translations of these birds.
You may have read elsewhere on this blog about just how many lakes we have in our region, because of this we have many fish-hunting eagles, two species in fact, the graceful Osprey and the enormous White Tailed Eagle.
The Osprey is migratory and between Spring and Autumn it’s quite a common site to see one fly overhead clutching a fish in it’s talons! sometimes the fish appear too big to carry and the bird is clearly struggling… It’s a rarer site to see them actually hunting however. Though they need the lakes, they always nest away from water and nesting posts have been put up for them, also nest baskets on electricity pylons, a great idea as it keeps them safe from humans.
The White tailed eagle is huge, the largest bird of prey in Northern Europe (we don’t have vultures). There are 13 nesting pairs in our locality (around the Muritz lake) and a few individuals, you might be surprised at how often you see them. I ride my bike often and have calculated I see one every four hours whilst cycling. It can be difficult to understand just how big they are, they often fly high in the sky and there is nothing to compare them too, however when you see them next to a bird you might otherwise think of as large such as the Common Buzzard or Raven, you really appreciate their bulk.
Mature adults have white tails and short necks, when soaring with wings straight they look like flying planks!! Unlike the Osprey they don’t rely entirely on fish and are happy to take birds and animals from the ground or eat carrion (dead animals).
Another bird that can sometimes be seen fishing like an Osprey, but is less well known for this beahviour is the Red Kite. Their appearance here in late February heralds the arrival of Spring, the first migratory bird of prey to arrive, they can appear to be very large and are beautifully coloured, usually easy to identify by their “angular” wings and flight patterns.
The Black Kite is more common in Southern Europe but many visit us here in the summer, very similar in shape, they do appear to be black , but are actually a very dark brown.
Both the Red and Black Kite are less scared of humans than other birds of prey and can often be seen hunting close to farms and even in towns.
Whilst cycling on the many lakeside and woodland bike paths in the summer, it’s quite common to spot one of the three harrier species in this area hunting over fields. The Hen Harrier is similar in size, shape and colour to the Montagu’s harrier and you might need binoculars to tell them apart. Both can often appear quite white and may be confused for a seagull but are in fact a pale grey. The much larger (especially the female) Marsh Harrier may also be seen hunting over fields but as the name suggests are usually seen hunting frogs, birds
and small rodents over the huge expanses of reed beds surrounding the lakes of the area.
Three types of buzzard can be seen locally, the Common Buzzard is by far the most abundant bird of prey in the area. Around us their colouring varies enormously with some birds appearing almost completely white. The Rough-Legged Buzzard is very similar to the Common Buzzard apart from it’s shaggy legs, but another thing that gives it away is that it often hovers like a Kestrel when hunting, we have a resident Rough Legged Buzzard in the fields around the Schloss and he can often be seen hanging in the sky looking for his next meal. The Honey Buzzard is much harder to spot, so called because they primarily feed on insects (and their honey) they are shy and live deep in the woods so seen more rarely.
Most people in Europe know the familiar site of the small falcon that hovers
near motorways, this is the kestrel normally very common, however due to the abundance of other species of birds of prey they are actually more scarce here and most likely to be seen nesting in church towers in towns and villages. Similarly the Sparrowhawk is often seen close to buildings, fences and hedges using them as cover as it “bombs” fast to try and catch small birds by surprise. The female is much larger than the male and can catch birds as big as pigeons, check out this picture of one that caught a pigeon right outside my front door in nearby Röbel.
Other birds that we have seen near here though much less frequently are the Goshawk, very similar to the Sparrowhawk but much larger and more powerful, the tiny Merlin, spotted flying low over ploughed fields and perching on clumps of mud and the Lesser Spotted Eagle, a very rare bird that I have seen only a few times, similar in size to a buzzard it
is a uniform chocolate brown and when at rest it’s line of white spots (actually wing-tips) can be clearly seen through binoculars.
Our ride-leaders and carers keep a constant watch for these magnificent birds whilst on outdoor activities with our young guests, of course all are not regular birdwatchers so part of the fun is to identify the birds using the books in our library upon returning to Schloss Leizen. Whatever happens during your child’s time here they are guaranteed to see at least some of these amazing creatures and possibly an eagle or two.
|English||German||Migratory or Resident|
|White Tailed Eagle||Seeadler||Resident|
|Less frequently seen|
|Lesser White Spotted Eagle||Schreiadler||Migratory|