The Buzzard is a medium to large sized raptor, and is as an effective killing machine as a Golden Eagle.
Geneticist Steve Jones suggests that the Buzzard is one of many creatures probably descended from a ‘segmented worm-like being in an ancient sea’. Its scientific species name is Buteo buteo. This formidable predator will drop down on rabbits and small mammals from slow or hovering flight or from a perch. It has incredible strength, and can even pick up a small dog. Since we have a miniature red-brown dachshund, we constantly keep an eye out for her, having had a few close calls. She wears a high vis coat in poor weather which must help disguise her from the buzzards recognition requirements.
Around us we have fence posts and trees to spot these large birds readying to snatch their prey in powerful talons, then kill it on the ground.
Our local all year resident buzzards are various shades of brown, with a pale ‘necklace’ of feathers. A magnificent appearance, especially if perched close by or gliding past at eye level. Their wingspan is 109–136 cm (43–54 in).
They call in a plaintive peea-ay, helping me to locate their acrobatic displays as they swoop around the high fells. It does not seem to help their potential prey keep out of sight.
When breeding they fly in spectacular aerial displays, circling high in the sky , then they do ‘the roller coaster’, from high up they start to turn and plummet downward, in a spiral, twisting and turning toward the ground. Then they repeat the exercise over and over as if exhilarated with their male prowess. As they pair for life, this may be for an existing mate or a new mate, but the female gets the same stylish performance annually. I have often developed neck ache watching them.
This year our local pair produced one successful juvenile, and we certainly knew about it. It demanded food almost 24/7 for several months, making a most harsh call such that I wondered if it was another kind of bird. I asked my raptor knowledgeable friend to call and advise. Yes, it was a juvenile buzzard but it was more noisy than one might have expected. Perhaps this was again due to the poor weather and lack of easy prey available. Usually the buzzard will hunt on a daily basis, not nocturnally, but that juvenile kept us all awake with its constant demands. One day I saw its parents take it high in the clear blue sky and they flew on the thermals. They seemed to kiss and separate as the young bird flew for a short while alone. Then only one parent would be hunting for food with it as they flew to different territory, though within range of the forest in which it was born. Now it flies alone, hunting alone, but always in a radius of the forest.
I hope it will find a mate next year.
The RSPB recently fought the UK Government suggested trial to destroy buzzard nests and imprison adults to protect pheasants during the hunting season. “A massive public outcry helped the RSPB to make the case that it was unacceptable to kill a native bird of prey to protect a non-native gamebird released for the purposes of recreational shooting.” The Hen Harrier was killed nearly to extinction for the same reasons and now we have a local project, trying, against the odds, to breed them, much to the chagrin of the hunting community.
The crows mob the buzzard on a regular basis, as they both nest in the same area and the crows fiercely protect their territory. They always succeed in steering the raptor away, as do the swallows and house martins. As with all carrion eaters, there will be a battle over dropped prey with all those seeking to take the opportunity of a free meal. Mobbing the buzzard can make it drop its kill.
The days are drawing in now and the sights of 2012 are drawing to a close as winter settles in, earlier than expected. Still, the aural and visual memories of this past year flash through my mind when I sit by a warm fire; the days getting shorter and darker. I can sit indoors and learn more about the wildlife around me, pre-armed to identify and understand more about my environment as it unfolds next Spring.
Three major ash trees edge our garden and the burn. I am terrified ash dieback might reach them. Scientist say it is now beyond containment. These ash trees are a major feature of this locality, only two sycamores even more ancient along the track to our cottage. The pine forest is home to so many birds, but the ash trees are where the large birds fly to reconnoitre. Will these trees still stand so proud and strong in 2013 out of the UK’s population of 80 million ash trees? Many will be lost and it will be a devastation to lose them after the Dutch elm tree disease of the 70s, when 25 million elm trees were lost.
As life forms have evolved they face many threats and so often become extinct or near extinction. From analysis of fossil pollen in peat samples, it is apparent that elms, an abundant tree in prehistoric times, all but disappeared from northwestern Europe during the mid-Holocene period about 6000 years ago, and to a lesser extent 3000 years ago. This roughly synchronous and widespread event has come to be known as the ‘Elm Decline’.
The peak for Scotland’s woodlands was about 5,000 years ago, when tree cover and diversity was at its greatest extent. The ‘Caledonian Forest’ is from a Latin word meaning ‘wooded heights’. Elm and ash woods were amongst one type of woodland amongst many. The trees died away around 4,500 years ago, a period of cold, wet weather resulted in the spread of peat bogs. I only have to walk up a nearby fell to find the peat hags on the top, a dangerous place to spend much time. There are no mature trees beyond our cottage when walking up our glen. The pine forest is to the west of us where the buzzard and other wildlife make their home. It is a neglected pine forest sitting in bouncing peat. Hopefully it will never be felled for there are so few trees in this vicinity. The new pine and broad-leaved plantings will mature over the next decades, but before then, the juvenile buzzard may have to go further afield to find a mate and suitable territory.