Apart from the various owls (which are not included in our list of birds to see due to their being mostly nocturnal), there are really only 4 resident birds of prey which are commonly seen in West Wales. First amongst them is the glorious Red Kite - recently reintroduced to the region with great success.
Next come Buzzards, which are generally remarked upon by locals as ‘common as sparrows’. Their shade can range from dark to quite pale all over but they’re always speckled brown. Seen from beneath, as they often are when soaring above you, notice that their underwing coverts are dark with even darker carpal patch. Members of the Crow family (see Birds to see Inland in West Wales) will mob a buzzard if it comes too close to their young; you can witness this if you follow the piercing sound of the raptor’s high pitched ‘mew’.
Many female birds of prey are larger than their male counterparts, and often have strikingly different plumage.
Kestrels are often seen hovering over motorways in the more populated areas of the UK and they are the only raptor to do this. They like all sorts of habitats in rural Wales and are often seen close to cliffs. They hunt small prey such as beetles and voles, unlike the Sparrowhawk, the female of which tackles thrushes or pigeons (the smaller male can only manage tits and sparrows). A pile of feathers on a woodland floor are often the sign of a recently devoured pigeon. You will sometimes catch sight of a Sparrowhawk as it whizzes low over a hedge or zooms along a stretch of road only a few feet above the ground. The speed is phenomenal and it appears to move without flapping its wings: quite an exciting experience.
Peregrines nest on cliffs and take prey such as crows, wading birds or pigeons out of the sky. Young birds tend to be streaked on the body rather than barred.
Hen Harrier is the only raptor in open country in winter. The female is completely different from the grey and white male. Although she still has the owl-like head, she has brown feathers edged with cream which show as very bold barring all the way to wing tips and end of tail when in flight. She does not have such dark coverts and carpals nor the dark wings tips of the buzzard. From above both sexes have an obvious white rump.
Merlin can be seen on farmland or near coast. The male is about the size of the male Sparrowhawk - only like a dove. They hunt small birds such as pipits and finches in winter and have to chase hard before making the catch. You might see the raptor frantically twisting and turning as it attempts to outwit its prey.