All about buzzards
The buzzard is a one of the commonest and most widespread birds of prey in the UK and the rest of Europe. It can be seen flying at any time of the year and its presence may also be given away by its plaintive, cat-like “pee-uu” call.
What to look for
Buzzards can grow over 50cm long with a wingspan of up to 137cm. The wings are broad and round with finger-like feathers at their ends. The buzzard is very variable in colour, but is most commonly a mid-brown, with a paler “V” on its breast. The upper wings are dark brown and the lower wings are brown at their front, with paler flight feathers behind.
Did you know?
- Buzzards hunt mainly small mammals, such as voles and rabbits, and birds such as crows or pigeons. They will also take smaller prey such as earthworms, insects or small reptiles. Buzzards will also eat “carrion” (already dead animals) which they find in their territory. This has led them to be unfairly blamed and persecuted by farmers and gamekeepers.
- Buzzards begin breeding in April or May and make a nest in a tree or on a rocky crag. This is made of sticks lined with soft materials such as bracken or moss. The female lays 2-3 eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The eggs hatch after about 34 days, in order of laying, over about one week. In times of food shortage, the youngest hatchling may not survive. The young fly after about 50 days, but are looked after by their parents for another 40 days or so.
- Buzzard pairs mate for life. To attract a mate, or to impress his current one, the male will perform a ‘roller coaster’ flight. He will rise high up in the sky, then turn and plummet downward in a spiral, twisting and turning as he comes down. He then rises again quickly through the air and repeats the manoeuvre all over again.
The buzzard population fell significantly during the 20th century as a result of unlawful killing, exposure to toxic chemicals and a large reduction in the rabbit population caused by Myxomatosis. The numbers are recovering, but buzzards are still persecuted, mainly by deliberate poisoning, which kills large numbers of birds each year.
Buzzards typically live in hilly areas with hedges and trees and moorland, but more recently have begun to inhabit lowland farm areas, such as those found in Nottinghamshire.
Where to see
Buzzards are daytime hunters and are most frequently seen soaring slowly in the sky over open countryside and farmland. In soaring flight, the large wings often form a shallow “V” shape with the tail spread out like a fan and they sometimes hang almost motionless in the air. Buzzards are usually seen hunting alone but sometimes they fly in pairs. The buzzard also likes to perch on trees, posts or poles as it surveys the area for prey. When prey is spotted it will quickly swoop down to catch its food.