Birds of Prey

Golden eagle

Wildlife on the Tour du Mont Blanc

If you’re hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc this summer, don’t forget to look up to the sky once in a while! Because that’s the domain of some magnificent birds of prey. Who knows, perhaps you’ll spot some of these suburb hunters in action!  

Here’s a list of birds of prey that live in the region, so you’ll know what to look for:

Birds of Prey of the High Mountain

Golden eagles are massive! They can have an impressive wing span of up to two meters (6 feet!)! Seeing one soaring by when you’re up in the alpine is an utterly exciting experience. Peregrine falcons are much smaller, but just as impressive when seen in action. When hunting small birds in full flight, peregrine falcons perform high-speed dives: they can reach up to two hundred kilometres per hour (124 miles per hour)!


  • Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) (See featured image.)
  • Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon is like a mighty little bird in the Alps. Photo by Alessandro La Becca

Birds of Prey around Villages and in Valleys with Agriculture

The buzzard is the most common bird of prey in Europe, often found in forests with open spaces and cultural landscape. There you can see the medium sized bird of prey hunting small mammals or you see them flying around on thermals. Kestrels often “hang” in the air with their tail feathers widely spread out. While searching for small prey on the ground, kestrels can hover at the same spot for a long time, while kites are fast and incredibly agile in their flight.


  • Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)
  • Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
  • Red kite (Milvus milvus)
  • Black kite (Milvus migrans)
Kestrel. Photo by Vincent van Zalinge

Birds of Prey of the Forest

Both the goshawk and the sparrowhawk plan their attack in advance, from an ambush, and execute it quickly with the speed of lighting. That’s how they catch small birds. They are hard to see, because of their reclusive lifestyle. Goshawks live in forests up to 1800 meters and have short rounded wings and long tails. This allows them to make quick turns in dense forests during hunting flights. The sparrowhawk is a smaller version of the goshawk.


  • Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)
  • Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl. Photo by Kai Wenzel

Nocturnal Birds of Prey

All the owls in the Alps have one thing in common: they don’t build their own nest. They rather use an old nest of another bird or choose an existing hole or niche in a tree or on a rock face.

Some species: 

  • Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) – biggest owl in Europe
  • Tawny owl (Strix aluco)
  • Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum) – smallest owl in Europe
  • Tengmalm’s owl (Aegolius funereus)

Read more about owls here:

Owl Rescue: Feathered Patients – Dec 14, 2019

Scavenging Birds of Prey

Vultures don’t hunt, but fly around looking for carcasses to feed on. The most common species seen on the Tour du Mont Blanc are bearded vultures and griffon vultures.

Most commonly seen species:

  • Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)
  • griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Read more about bearded vultures here:

Bearded Vultures and Their Astonishing Comeback (May 25, 2019)

Spotlight on the Bearded Vulture (March 2, 2019)

Read more about Birds on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Wildlife of the TMB – Birds of the High Mountains – Nov 02, 2019

Simone van Velzen

3 Replies to “Birds of Prey”

  1. William (Bill) Dove says:

    Your photo of the Peregrine falcon is not a Peregrine but rather a hawk. A Common Buzzard, I believe but am in Canada.

    • BAZ WILLMOTT says:

      Quite right Bill of Canada, the only caption to a picture that is incorrect is the one saying Peregrine Falcon, which as you say should be saying Common Buzzard, well spotted though.

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