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 Buzzard - Fact File
Buzzard in flight
Buteo buteo
Resident. Occurs mostly in hilly country in the north and west of the region - much of Scotland, Lake District, Wales and south-west England. In Ireland, only in the north-east. Absent or scarce from most of eastern England, although slowly spreading east.
Hills, wooded valleys and farmland with scattered woods.
Broad-winged and most often seen soaring on up-swept wings. Typical bird illustrated, but darker and paler forms occur.
43 - 53 cm (17 - 22")
 

Buzzard

The buzzard, although not a native of the Eastern Counties, is apt to appear in both Lincolnshire and Norfolk from time to time. Basically this, our largest and most graceful bird of prey, prefers wooded hillsides, and is mostly found in Wales and Scotland. However, it does turn up in the most unexpected localities, and it is as well to acquaint ourselves with it.

The buzzard is easily distinguished from all other species of hawk by its size alone. The wingspan may vary between 48 inches to 60 inches with a body length of some 20 inches. Its plumage is a rich brown, with lighter markings beneath. In flight the wings have a ragged, moth-like appearance as this bird glides to and fro at a tremendous height.

It is a slow flier, and has little chance of catching its prey on the move. The usual tactics which it adopts is to perch motionless on a branch of a large tree, its markings being excellent camouflage, rendering it almost invisible. It is a patient bird, quite content to sit for hours at a time until a young rabbit, a rat or a mouse chances to pass beneath it. Then it will swoop down on to its unsuspecting prey.

The 'mewing' of the buzzard is unmistakable as it soars in the sky, calling frequently. Wood pigeons and songsters flee at its appearance, yet rarely do they fall prey to this large hawk.

For many years this bird was persecuted by game preservers who believed that it was detrimental to both pheasants and partridges. However, seldom does it bother with game, although if a poult happens to venture close to where it is lying in wait, it will swoop down on it. Yet, the buzzard does not exist in such numbers for it to be a constant danger to the game preserves, and quite rightly it has been placed upon the list of protected birds.

Fortunately, at this present time, buzzards are on the increase. Extinction was feared during the crisis years of myxomatosis when this bird's staple diet was almost non-existent. However, as the rabbit population re-established itself, so did the buzzard.

The buzzard will also feed on carrion, a fact that often brings the blame on to it for a killing for which it was not responsible. Sometimes a buzzard will attack new-born lambs, particularly if the ewe is unable to defend its young, but mostly it feeds on the natural casualties of a lambing season. All too often the distressed shepherd does not realise that this is the case and unjustly (and illegally!) persecutes this bird of prey.

We now come to the question of why the buzzard should appear in such parts of the British Isles as the Eastern Counties, far from its natural habitat. One main cause is that of sudden strong winds. The buzzard, soaring at a great height, suddenly finds itself caught up in a current of air against which it is impossible to battle. A slow, lazy flier, it finds it easier to drift with the wind, and before very long it finds itself in a strange locality.

It is tired and there is shelter in the form of a conifer wood. Food is abundant, too, so it decides to stay for a while. It soon attracts the attention of the local corvine tribe and is mobbed by rooks and jackdaws. It is a strong bird, though, and apart from the raven (also found in hilly country) these birds are little more than a nuisance.

The buzzard may remain for days or weeks in this new territory. If it so happens that its mate has been blown off course along with it, then it is apt to remain for longer. However, a single bird has a yearning to return in search of a mate, particularly in the early part of the year.

Buzzards are often mistaken for other large birds of prey in localities where they are not normally seen. I have heard varying reports of golden eagles, kites and merlins, but an investigation has almost every time led to the visitor being identified as a buzzard.

I once witnessed a battle between a raven and a buzzard during the early part of the breeding season. Territorial rights were being disputed, and this spectacle of aerial combat lasted for an hour or more. In the end it was the raven who emerged as conqueror, its swifter flight and razor-sharp beak being no match for the more leisurely counter-attacks of the large hawk.

When the buzzard turns up in a new locality we must do our utmost to provide it with security and maintain vigilance in case of indiscriminate shooting by those who still regard birds with hooked beaks as enemies of game and livestock. This hawk should be welcomed wherever it appears. It is an asset to any tract of countryside.

By Guy N. Smith

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain