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What is the smallest bird of prey?

Sent in by Patricia Johnston, Belfast

With more than 280 species worldwide, birds of prey are some of the most awe-inspiring of our feathered friends. The variety in shapes and sizes is huge, with birds like the harpy eagle, Andean condor and Philippine eagle dominating the heavyweight end of the scale.

However, the lighter end of the scale is equally as impressive, with some tiny birds of prey found across the world.

In the UK, our smallest bird of prey is the merlin. A member of the falcon family, the merlin measures as little as 26 cm in length, which is roughly the same size as a mistle thrush. The merlin preys upon small birds like meadow pipits in dashing aerial pursuits and is one of the must-see species if you are walking in upland moor habitats at this time of year.

However, the merlin is a giant when compared to some of the world's smallest raptors. The south-east Asian black-thighed falconet is one of the smallest. It's one of five similar species of the tiny falconet genus and is only 15-17 cm in length, about the same size as a bullfinch!

This bird mainly targets invertebrate prey, making hunting forays from a prominent perch much in the same way as a flycatcher behaves. However, other small birds need to be alert as even these tiny predators will take birds if the opportunity arises.

Another tiny bird of prey is the African pygmy-falcon. Found across much of Africa, this species is usually just under 20 cm in length, a touch smaller than a starling. Often nesting in weaverbird colonies, the pygmy falcon catches a range of prey that includes insects and reptiles.

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