Nature > Birds > Buzzard


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Relatively rare (certainly in central England) just a few years ago, the buzzard is now arguably the most common British bird of prey. Without any special conservation efforts, it has re-established in its traditional hilly areas, and has travelled south and east across England until the talk now is of controlling numbers.


It is is easily distinguished from all other species of hawk by its size alone, and we in Barford are very unlikely to see a golden eagle and mistake it for a buzzard!

It is a large bird with broad, rounded wings, and a short neck and tail. Its 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 appearance as it glides and soars, when it will often hold its wings in a shallow 'V'.

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BuzzardBuzzards like trees and hilly crags for nesting with open farmland and moorland nearby to feed over. They are found in their greatest numbers in hill country, for example in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District. However, they are also found on farmland with woods and in more arable areas of central southern and eastern England to where it has spread in recent years. It has even been spotted over central London.

Locally, buzzards are now often to be seen over Sherbourne woods, the woodland north of Debden Hollow on the road towards Warwick, or quartering the Avon flood plain. Watch out for birds soaring over the woods in fine weather, or perched on fence posts and pylons.

Buzzards pair in the Spring. At this time, several birds may be seen circling in the same area. They nest in mature trees and build large bulky nests from sticks, grass and other materials such as wool. They will also takeover an abandoned crow’s nest. Normally two or three chicks are reared.

The 'mewing' of the buzzard is unmistakable as it soars in the sky, calling frequently. Wood pigeons and song birds flee at its appearance, yet rarely do they fall prey to this large hawk. It is often mobbed by rooks, crows and jackdaws and it seems easily discouraged from hanging around where it is not wanted.

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Buzzards live on small mammals, birds and carrion. It is a slow flier, and has little chance of catching its prey on the move. So its usual tactic is to perch motionless on a branch of a large tree, its markings being excellent camouflage. It is a patient bird, quite content to sit for hours at a time until a young rabbit, a rat or a mouse happens to pass below. Then it will swoop down on to its unsuspecting prey.

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Buzzard in flightFor many years this bird was persecuted by gamekeepers who believed that it was detrimental to both pheasants and partridges. However, seldom does it bother with game, although if a young bird happens to wander near to where it is lying in wait, it won’t miss the opportunity for lunch.

At the moment, buzzards are very much on the increase. However, just twenty years ago, extinction was feared from the harmful effects of organochlorine pesticides, and during the crisis years of myxomatosis when its staple diet was itself almost wiped out. Today, with tighter pesticide controls, and as the rabbit population has re-established itself, so has the buzzard. Latest figures from bird conservation charity the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) indicate a massive 404 percent increase in buzzard numbers in southeast England since 1994.

With an estimated 120,000 adult buzzards now breeding in Britain, the species has arguably overtaken both the kestrel and sparrowhawk as our commonest bird of prey.

It's a remarkable comeback story, but one that could almost be too much for the the buzzard’s own good. For while the return of this broad-winged hawk is welcomed by many, others say numbers must now be controlled to protect more vulnerable birds from predation.

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Links and Sources for this feature:

Birds of Britain website

RSPB website

BTO website

National Geographic, buzzards make a comeback

Bird forum

Buzzard population

Bura folk tale

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