The common buzzard, Buteo buteo

The common buzzard belongs to the Accipitridae family in the Order Falconiformes and placed in the genus Buteo. The species is widespread, its range covering most of Europe and extends to Asia.

It is a bird that breeds in woodland but hunts over open country. It is a skilful flyer who has mastered the art of riding thermals and updraughts to rise high in the sky. For such a large bird it can remain elusive and is rarely seen close up { although it can be often observed circling high on thermals}

Although they are large birds of prey they tend to submit easily to the attentions of magpies and others of their ilk, when in flight, the buzzard will fly away submissively. 

Common Buzzard

Courtesy of Mark Medcalf  CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Description of the Common Buzzard.

In its sluggishness of habit it is reminiscent of the Vulture and in its soft plumage and mode of flight the Owl, but they differ from the former by feeding on live prey as well as carrion and from the latter in its diurnal habits.

It is a bulky broad winged hawk with stout legs and a short much curved beak, which is horn coloured with a yellow cere at the base of the bill. The plumage is brown, with rather paler under parts, but it is a very variable bird and may have many salient areas of pale whitish brown. darker brown coloured birds may have a pale breast band.

The wings are broad and rounded. The legs are yellow and the feet have large talons. The tail is relatively short.  it is a large compact raptor. In relation to its body size the wings are medium long, the head rounded, neck short, bill medium short, legs medium long. The length is 46-57cm with a wing span of 110-128cm. They weigh -Male--700-800g, the much larger female 850-1,000g

The movement is soaring with splayed wing tips, seen from below they have a large pale eye-like patch on each wing.when taking of they have a slow flapping flight. They may hover on occasion and they can also plummet with wings closed in the manner of a Peregrine falcon.  { though nowhere near as fast as that bird}.

They may be told at once from the Kite when in flight by their unforked tail.  The voice often described as a mewing sound, has also been described as a sort of melancholy whistle which is in keeping with the surroundings it frequents.

Buzzard in flight note the eye like patch on each wing.

Courtesy of Lip Kee {Singapore} CC BY-SA 2.0 License

Breeding and the young of the common buzzard.

Buzzards, as previously mentioned, breed in woodland, moorland valleys,farmland and on cliffs; breeding buzzards are highly territorial. during January and February the birds re-establish their bonds and spend much more time together.Soaring display flights may be observed above their territories. Birds in the south of the country will begin to nest well before birds in the more northerly counties.

The nest, which is constructed of large and small sticks is lined, sometimes plentifully, sometimes sparingly with wool or fur, moss, heather or some other similar soft substance.  Interestingly in his book The Call of the Birds, 1929, Charles Bayne states--" the buzzard decorates the interior of its nest with green leaves, which must be frequently renewed, for they are always fresh. Presumably the bouquet is brought by the male, but we have no definate proof of this".

The eggs, of a dull white colour with reddish brown blotches, number 2-4 and are incubated for 23-25 days. This task is carried out by the female, her mate providing her food during this period. he will carry the food to a favoured perch about 40 or so metres from the nest. Then he gives a specific call to his mate which conveys to her that food has arrived. while the female eats the food the male may take over the incubating for a short time, leaving the nest immediately the female returns. 

The parents, especially the mother look after all the needs of their vulnerable offspring, and the large powerful female, is often deterrent enough against opportunist feeders such as magpies,crows and grey squirrel, all of which would readily eat the eggs and young given the opportunity. 

The chicks will be attended by her at all times until the chicks are 14-17 days old. As with all birds of prey sibling rivalry is intense when there is a food shortage and only the strongest, largest chick{s} will survive such a predicament. At around a month and a half the chicks will leave the nest, however, the nest remains an important part of their lives at this stage. The parent will leave food there for them, thus they have to fly back to the nest to feed. They may also sleep there. from the age of two months they are still reliant on their parents for food, but, from this age they are taught to hunt for themselves, a process they must master if they are to survive their first winter.

Buteo buteo

Courtsey of Noel Reynolds CC BY-SA 2.0 Licence

Diet of the common buzzard.

the diet of this species is varied, the winter diet, consists of invertebrate and small mammals. It is an adaptable predator preying on small rabbits in particular and small rodents including field voles. They may be observed doing low level sorties over open country or, equally, they may be seen sitting patiently on a favoured perch just waiting for a tell tale movement of an unwary animal traveller. Conversely they may just walk along the ground where earth worms and other invertebrates are targeted.

They will also take carrion, especially road kills, and dead lambs, lizards, frogs, moles and leverets may also be included . 

Buzzards can reach great heights by utilising the thermals.

Photograph by Dal

Conservation issues.

Historically buzzards suffered dramatic declines caused in archaic times by persecution, again I take a passage from the book Call of the Birds {1929 } to illustrate the point---" Game keepers, so persecuted the buzzard, an equally interesting and harmless bird, that he has driven it from the greater part of the country, and is now to be found only nesting in the wilder mountainous districts where they have some chance of living in peace, all other birds of prey he treats with the same ignorance."

In the Book-The Young Naturalist,{1909} , W.Percival Westell, states " If the young naturalist desires to see the common buzzard in its own wild vastness, he must go to Scotland or Wales. In England and Ireland it is practically exterminated as a nesting species" 

Conservation Issues 2012----What a difference protection and conservation can make to the fortunes of some species, and, in particular the common buzzard. The sorry state of affairs remarked upon in the previous two paragraphs has Now been completely reversed. Today the Common Buzzard is probably one of, if not , the commonest bird of prey in England. The law {Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981} making it a  protected species, pesticides which were banned, and a healthy rabbit population { see the loveable rabbit} and more enlightened gamekeepers,has seen their numbers rise to between 40 and 60,000 pairs in 20001 {BTO}. with many areas now being recolonised after an absence of more than 100 years.

 The numbers are also on the rise through out most of Europe. 

Conservation Status UK-2021

UK Green List -Numbers rising no current conservation concerns.

The Breeding Bird survey of 2020 shows that buzzards are still doing well. 

Europe- they are a species of Least Concern 

Double Standards ---Government aim to pheasants from Buzzards. May 2012.

The Government plans to spend £400,000 pounds to protect pheasants from buzzards. DEFRA- has given in to the pheasant shooting lobby and plan to allow the destruction of buzzard nests and to permit buzzards to be taken into captivity to remove them from shooting estates. The RSPB believe this intervention will set a new precedent and prove to be a costly and unnecessary exercise. Not to mention being illegal under currant wildlife laws.

Martin Harper  -RSPB Conservation Director criticises DEFRA's proposal, he said--" we are shocked by the plans to destroy buzzards nests and to take buzzards into captivity to protect a non-native game bird released in their millions. Buzzards play a minor part in pheasant losses, compared with other factors such as collisions with vehicles."

There follows a posting that appears on the Wildlifeextra website. it was posted by Trevor Williams on the 25th May 2012---

" DEFRA, lists many wild species as foreign and insist they must not be released into the wild or that they may be shot on sight. Yet they bend over backwards for the shooting lobby who daily kill indigenous species such as foxes, stoats, weasels, and lets not pretend otherwise-birds of prey in order to protect a foreign bird so spectacularly stupid that they make chickens look like intellectuals. And do they trust Gamekeepers to look after the buzzards in their "care" ? If they say they do  they are either naive or conniving.  Given the level of illegal killing that takes place on shooting estates all over the UK, the buzzards haven't got a cat in hells chance!." Trevor concludes by adding " The lunatics are running the asylum" 

To read more postings and a detailed report about DEFRA's proposals click on Links banner on the right hand side of this page, scroll down to WildlifeExtra this will give a direct link to the website home page. 

Reuse of images.

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The rough legged buzzard is a rare migrant to the UK.

Photograph courtesy of Dave Herr [USFWS}

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Short eared owl.

Tawny owl.

Barn owl.

Peregrine falcon.

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The Loveable rabbit.

The BTO.

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Image above courtesy of Marek Szczepanek { creative commons Attribution}.