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Common Buzzard

Buteo buteo

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

The common buzzard is a medium sized raptor, found across Europe, Asia, and in winter months Africa. It is the most common bird of prey found in the UK, with over 44,000 breeding pairs, found across nearly every county. Their large size and brown colouration often gets them confused with other species, mostly with the golden eagle, and the red kite. From a distance they may appear the same, but the buzzard has a distinctive flying shape, with broad wings and a fanned tail, and a very distinctive call, which sounds like the mewing of a cat.

Here at Woburn we have one common buzzard, appropriately named, Buzz. Buzz likes to get up  to the highest parts of the arena, to get a good look at the rest of the park, and then shows off with long gliding flights down to our gloves.

Distribution
Europe and parts of Asia, wintering in Asia, and northern Africa
Habitat
Woodland, heath, moor and farmland
Height
46 - 58cm in length
Weight
400 - 1400g
Lifespan
Wild up to 25 years, in captivity up to 30 years
Threats
Habitat loss, decline of prey, and pesticide poisoning

Physical Features

The buzzard is a medium sized raptor, weighing up to 1400g, and with a wingspan of 110 to 130cm. The body is usually a brown colour, although there are large regional variations, including dark brown, pale brown, chestnut, and brown with white mottling. The main body will be this colour, with the wingtips, tip of the tail, and the upper body darker in colour than the rest. There is often barring on the tail and flight feathers, and white streaking on the chest and throat.

It is easily recognisable in flight by its broad wings, and broad fanned tail, often seen soaring with its wings in a ‘V’ shape, and its tail fanned. It is however often confused with the golden eagle, and red kite by many people when seen from a distance.

As with most birds of prey, the female is larger than the male.

There are 11 sub species of the common buzzard, although these sub species are still under debate.

Some populations will migrate during winter months to Africa and southern Asia.

Diet and Hunting Behaviour

The buzzards diet consist mainly of small mammals, such as mice, voles, rats, rabbits and hares. They will also take birds, reptiles, invertebrates and are commonly found eating carrion. They are commonly seen in fields stamping the ground to attract earth worms to the surface to eat.

Although they prefer to nest in woodland, they prefer to hunt in open land. The buzzard will perch on a tree or post looking for prey, or may hover mid air to search for food. Once prey is spotted they will then take a quick dive down at the prey. The strong feet and talons are used to catch the prey, which is then dispatched with a nip from its beak. They will then use the sharp hooked end of the beak to tear up their food to eat it if it is large, or swallow it whole if it is smaller.

The buzzard will produce a pellet every day, a small package of all the parts of their food they cannot digest fully, such as the bones and fur or feathers, regurgitated. This removes the indigestible parts of food, but also cleans the digestive tract of any debris and bacteria.

Communication

The buzzard is a solitary bird, as with most birds of prey. It is only during the breeding season when they will be seen together, or during winter migration where birds are often travelling at the same time and place and can be seen in lose, widespread groups of up to 20 birds.

 During the breeding season buzzards perform a series of courtship display flights, including performing soaring, tumbling and loop the loop, aerial manoeuvres, known as the ‘roller coaster’ display.

It is said that their call resembles that of a cat, as it is a ‘mew’ like ‘peea-ay’ call which they make most commonly.

They are highly territorial, and will intimidate and warn off any intruder into their territory with flight displays and calling.

Breeding

Breeding season starts around March, through to May, where males will start to perform courtship displays for the females. These aerial displays consist of a rage of soaring, diving, tumbling, and loop the loop manoeuvres, which combined make for an impressive display. The main move, known as the ‘roller coaster’ involves the male rising high into the sky, before turning and plummeting downward in a spiral, twisting and turning as he dives. He will then raise high again straight away to repeat the move.

Buzzards are monogamous, and will stay with the same partner for life. If the male has a lifelong partner he may still perform the courtship display for her every year.

Buzzards prefer to nest in trees, usually in the fork of a branch, and near to the edge of the woods. The nest will be large, and made of a collection of sticks made into a platform, with various greenery lining it.

The female will lay two to four eggs, and will incubate them for between 33 to 38 days. Once hatched, the female will stay with the chicks for the first three weeks while the male supplies the food. The chicks will fledge at around 50 to 60 days, but will rely on the parents for food for another 6 to 8 weeks.

Buzzards reach sexual maturity at three years old.

Husbandry

All of our birds of prey are flown daily. This has many benefits to the animal. Firstly it allows the animal to exercise, keeping them fit, and developing flying muscles. It also allows them to perform their natural behaviours, for some of our birds of prey this may include various hunting techniques such as catching prey mid-flight, and chasing down ground prey, or killing a (rubber) snake.

Each bird has a varied diet, just as it would in the wild, mimicking the varying nutritional properties of each food type and the quantities.

Threats and Conservation

Due to their large size and speed there are not many natural predators for the buzzard. They are occasionally prey upon by eagles, and wildcats, and foxes when on the ground.

Humans have had a large negative effect on the common buzzard over the past century. The use of organochloride pesticides in the 1970’s had a huge impact on buzzards, causing a decline in their prey populations, and even the passing of poisons through the food chain. The loss of suitable habitat for their prey, due to large scale agricultural farming, also caused a drop in numbers. In the 1950’s the introduction of myxomatosis, a disease fatal to rabbits, had a huge impact on their food supply. However buzzards are very adaptable and instead relied on other food sources such as smaller mammals, carrion, and even earthworms.

Buzzards were heavily persecuted by gamekeepers, as they were seen to be a threat to their pheasant and grouse numbers. However buzzards rarely take these birds as prey. It is illegal to shoot buzzards, so this practice has stopped for the most part, however there is still some illegal shooting which takes place.

Unlike some other British species, such as the barn owl, which faced similar problems in the last thirty years, the buzzard has bounced back and has now recovered to numbers higher than ever before. There are thought to be around 40,000 breeding pairs of buzzards in the UK alone, found in nearly every county, and worldwide over 4,000,000 individuals throughout its range.

They are protected by the wildlife and countryside act of 1981, a legislation which protects a number of British birds by law, making it an offence to kill, injure or take a buzzard, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

They are listed as appendix II of CITES, which means the trade and export of this species is heavily regulated and controlled to protect them.

Fun Facts

The buzzards call is easily recognisable as it sounds like a cats ‘mew’!

They are often referred to as the ‘tourist eagle’, as people confuse them with eagles, or even red kites!

Buzzards will stomp on the ground to attract earth worms to the surface, to eat them!