Whilst it is commonly assumed birds of prey eat small mammals, most British raptors have a very varied diet and eat a range of prey, including garden birds.

What Do Birds of Prey Eat

According to the RSPB, birds of prey in the UK are a set of birds with hooked bills and can vary in size from smaller birds such as the Sparrowhawk to the white-tailed eagle.

Birds of prey are notable for catching live prey – other types of bird, such as crows will eat ‘meat’ but this is usually scavenged, either leftovers from other birds or mammals that have been killed by traffic. Birds of prey generally catch live prey but the types of prey they consume varies between species and area.

Although we tend to think of raptors eating mice or voles, they will eat a wide range of foods. Generally, the bigger the bird, the bigger the prey will be, but it is not uncommon for large birds of prey to take smaller prey if the food source is abundant.

Foods eaten by birds of prey include:

  • Fish – usually limited to coastal birds
  • Large insects – such as grasshoppers or beetles
  • Reptiles and amphibians – frogs, grass snakes, lizards
  • Mammals – small to medium mammals including mice, voles and rabbits
  • Birds – from small garden birds to larger ones such as pigeons
  • Carrion – not as common but some birds of prey will eat scavenged food

Most species have preferred prey items but the amazing thing about birds of prey is how adaptable they are. Because they aren’t too fussy, if one food item is in short supply, they will simply choose something else.  

Do Birds of Prey Eat Other Birds?

Yes, birds of prey will eat other birds, including garden birds you may enjoy leaving food out for. All types of songbird can be predated by birds of prey, and some larger birds such as pigeons and doves.

Although it may be upsetting to see birds of prey catch and eat common garden birds, we must accept this is part of nature and everyone has to eat. Also – you are unlikely to have birds of prey routinely targeting your garden and bird feeders. If a bird of prey notices birds in your garden it may be an opportunistic kill, or they may return for a few weeks though they do usually move on after a short period.

This is very typically seen with Sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks are incredible hunters and can often be seen swiping birds straight from bird feeders and bird tables.

a bird of prey hovering over a field searching for prey

Do Birds of Prey Eat Eggs?

Birds of prey don’t generally go for the eggs of familiar garden bird species. Although when eggs hatch, some birds of prey will take chicks.

If you notice eggs have been taken or find broken shells this could be down to a variety of predators, but the usual culprits are members of the corvid family, such as crows, rooks and ravens. Many mammals will also take bird eggs if they get the chance, including squirrels, rats, fox, and stoats.

Can You Protect Garden Birds From Birds of Prey?

Although it is best not to get in the way of nature, if birds of prey are frequently targeting your bird table there is an easy way to deter them and provide garden birds with a bit of safety.

By situating your bird feeders near shelter, such as trees, sheds or your house, birds of prey will find it much harder to make a fast, stealthy attack as they won’t have a clear path towards feeding birds.

This helps to attract more birds to your garden too as birds prefer to eat when they feel safe, for many garden birds feeling safe means sheltered.

Should You Feed Birds Of Prey?

It is not generally recommended to feed birds of prey in your garden. Unless we have a severely unusual winter and you notice birds searching for food – in this case, birds of prey can be fed with raw meat from the supermarket or pre-killed chicks and mice which are available from most pet stores.

Leaving raw food out can have other consequences such as attracting cats, rats and other mammals so this should be carefully considered.

For an amazing account from someone who does feed birds of prey in their garden, take a look at the blog of Robert Fuller, a wildlife artist who routinely feeds Kestrels in his garden.