November 2014 - The (Common) Buzzard


Photo taken by Dominic Gwilliam-Bell

You'll hear the call first - a mewing, coming from clear skies over Bawburgh. Look up and you will see 2 or more medium to large birds, soaring in circles, high in the sky. In the spring they perform spectacular aerial displays, circling high before tumbling towards the ground. Their extended wings, with wingspan of 109-136cm (43-54inches), held in characteristic shallow V shapes, look as if they have fingers on the tips; the barred tail is fanned out, making the birds distinguishable from Red Kites which have deeply forked tails. Commonly mistaken for eagles, Buzzards have earned the name 'tourists' eagles'.

Because of their lazy flight they rarely attempt to catch their prey from the air, but prefer to sit patiently on a branch in a tall tree and wait for prey to appear before swooping down to kill on the ground. They especially love to eat rabbits but will take any small mammal and occasionally a  ground bird, lizard or amphibian or when food is scarce earthworms or large insects.  However, their staple food is carrion. This adaptable nature has made the Buzzard the most widespread and common of raptors in the UK (current estimation 57,000-79,000 breeding pairs).

Buzzards are strongly territorial and will defend their territory throughout the year. Their nest which can be over a metre in diameter is constructed mainly of branches and twigs, and is built by both sexes, usually in trees or on high crags. It has a shallow construction and is lined with green material on which 2 to 4 eggs are laid. Nests can be reused. The incubation of the eggs is primarily by the female bird. The chicks hatch after 33-35 days. While the female broods the young chicks, the male will bring food to both female and chicks, but after about a fortnight both parents will start to feed the young. After fledging the young will stay with the parents for a further 6 to 8 weeks. Three quarters of the young buzzards die before maturation at three years old, primarily due to starvation; those that survive to three will live on average eight years in the wild.

The Buzzard is fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to kill, injure or take a buzzard, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.

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