For years I have been challenged to distinguish between the large black birds – Ravens, Crows, Jackdaws, Rooks – plus other large birds of prey…and light aircraft.
Let’s start with the easy one: Birds with sunlight glinting off windows or making engine noise are light aircraft. Just be particularly careful with Gliders in cloudy conditions.
As for the various large black birds …
Very often a bird’s call is the first alert to their presence, and an easier way of distinguishing them if you wish to. The RSPB website has a great page for each critter – click on the Play button at the top to hear the what the bird sounds like, and there’s pictures aplenty. I’ve included the link for each bird here, like so: Kestrel. So welcome to this the first ever More to… guide to Big Mountain Bird Identification!
These are the guys that hover infeasibly in one spot, often by the side of roads but also up in the hills. Lovely red, white and grey colouring, similar to a Red Kite, but they’re way smaller. Kestrel
Widespread, distinctive call, and the visual clues are i) They’re Big ii) They fly the easy way so you’re most likely to see them soaring on a thermal. They don’t flap. iii) You’ll see their white undercarriage, white feathers under their wings. Buzzard
Not so common, but you may hear one of these around a cliffy area.
Red Kites are now spreading rapidly after the most mind bogglingly successful re-introduction programme. Red Kites kindly have a very easy visual profile – their tale has a marked scoop inwards and they are, of course, rather red-looking. Plenty around the M40, Reading and spreading throughout Wales. Red Kite
Is it huge? Are you in the Scottish Highlands? Or a Bird of Prey Sanctuary? Then it could be a Golden Eagle. Our biggest bird of prey, absolutely majestic – get thyself to the Highlands to see one! There are no wild Golden Eagles in Wales or England at the time of writing. Golden Eagle
OK, now for the Big Black Birds….
I call these Flying Pigs, because frankly, that’s what they sound like. Large, black, and mostly found in mountainous areas, they’re the ones that oink at you. Visual clues – they’re Big, and if you can see their tail it’s a definite diamond shape. Raven
Big, black and with a very pale coloured beak and feathery coulottes. These guys hang out in groups, so a solo big black bird is unlikely to be a Rook. Rook
Yep, large and black. Very similar to Rooks, but these prefer to be solo or maybe in a pair…usually! Sometimes they are in larger groups too though. Um. They also have less feathery legs, and a darker beak, if you’re in a position to see such details! Familiar farm field call. Less common in mountains. Crow
Oh dear – also largish and black. But a totally different call and they are smaller than the others, with a grey hood which is helpful if you’re close enough to see it. Jackdaw
So there you go, if you want to know the name of what you’re hearing or looking at, that’s how. If you’re not that bothered, my other favourite identification method is extremely simple:
“It’s a bird.”
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