Common Buzzard

Habitat

Common Buzzards occupy a wide range of habitats throughout the NERF area across mountains, moorland, fells, dales, pastoral and arable land, forests and woods. Although their home ranges may include open moorland for hunting they are usually never far from their preferred tree based breeding localities.

Lifestyle

Buzzard Chick

Photo: Ian Fisher

Nests are usually in woodland but occasionally isolated trees and crags are used, and examples on low outcrops and even the stone walls of sheep folds have been found.
Typically 3-4 eggs are laid at 2-3 day intervals, although occasionally clutches of up to 6 occur. Incubation can take up to 42 days and usually both sexes are involved. The female broods and tends the young for up to 12 days, the male bringing in the food. Thereafter both parents will bring food to the nest but rarely will the male actually feed the young. They are able to feed themselves after c. 30 days and fly at 40-45 days.

A wide variety of prey is taken including rabbits and small mammals, birds – mainly passerines but also the chicks of larger species, reptiles, amphibians, insects and especially earthworms. Carrion is taken where available. The relatively long gut of Buzzards compared to other raptors enables it to survive on poorer food sources than many other species.

Status and range

Buzzard in flight

Photo: Ian Fisher

The national population stood at 31-44.000 territories and 14,200 pairs in 2000 [ BTO ]
based on research carried out by Clements and published in 2002 [ Clements, R. British Birds 95:377-383 ]. Although clearly there has been substantial growth since then, substantiated national figures have not been published.

They are now the most widespread of all diurnal raptors in the UK and have, largely, reclaimed their former distribution.

The 18th century land enclosures, the emergence of sporting estates and the growth of keepering pressured Buzzards into seeking refuge in the higher unimproved lands in the west. Reduced keepering during and after WW2 allowed an eastwards expansion but then the species was badly hit by the huge impact myxamatosis had upon the rabbit population in the 1950s. This was followed by secondary poisoning through the widespread use of organochlorines. It was only after the banning of these chemicals in the 1980s that the species began its slow recovery. It now breeds in every county and soaring birds are an increasingly familiar sight.

Threats and concerns

Despite the healthy numbers noted in some counties, which has led some NERF member study groups to no longer systematically monitor this species, persecution does still take place. In 2011 four groups reported either a lack of breeding success and/or the absence of adults adjacent to grouse rearing areas where the habitat is otherwise most suitable. Without any evidence to the contrary, this is strongly suggestive of human interference.

Furthermore, in 2011 the National Gamekeepers Association sought to persuade the government to introduce ‘controls’ on Buzzards in the interests of rearing Pheasants for shooting. NERF was invited to attend the Stakeholders meeting and subsequently submitted that there is no evidence to support any such measures. The N.G.A. contended that Buzzards are at 98% of the species’ carrying capacity. Monitoring work by NERF member groups which has identified the absences referred to above and from the North Yorks Moors and South Ryedale areas, suggests that this figure considerably overstates the position and there is capacity for continued expansion and infilling given the opportunity.

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