The Common buzzard, a medium sized raptor, is found across Europe and Asia, and in Africa in the winter months. It is the UK’s commonest bird of prey, found in nearly every county. Due to their large size and their brown color, they are often confused with other species, especially the Red kite and the Golden eagle. They may look the same from a distance, but the Common buzzard has a very distinctive call, like a cat’s mew, and a distinctive flying shape. When soaring and gliding, the tail is fanned and its wings are often held in a shallow 'V'. The color of individuals varies from dark brown to much lighter, though they all have a finely barred tail and dark wingtips.
This species occurs across Europe and Russia, and parts of Northern Africa and Asia in the cooler winter months. It lives in a range of habitats, especially woodland, moorland, pasture, scrub, arable land, marsh bog, villages and sometimes towns and cities.
Habits and lifestyle
The Common buzzard appears lazy when it sits quietly perched for lengthy periods, but it is, in fact, a very active bird, and flies back and forth over fields and forests. It usually lives a solitary life, but when migrating may form in flocks of up to 20, using thermals to glide long distances with little effort. When flying over large bodies of water where there are no thermals, like the Gibraltar Straits, the birds climb as high as they can before gliding across the entire expanse. This species is extremely territorial, and will fight if there is an intrusion onto a pair’s territory. Many smaller birds like crows and jackdaws consider them a threat and will mob them repeatedly until they fly away from a particular area or tree. Their most common call sounds like that of a cat, a ‘’meow” like “peea-ay”.
Diet and nutrition
Common buzzards are carnivores, they eat birds, small mammals, and carrion. If there is a lack of this prey, they will eat earthworms and large insects.
Common buzzards are monogamous, pairs mating for life. A male attracts a mate (or impresses his existing one) by performing a spectacular ritual aerial display called ‘the roller coaster’. The bird flies high in the sky, then turns and plunges down, twisting and turning in a spiral, to rise again immediately and repeat the display. From March to May, a breeding pair constructs their nest in a big tree on a branch or fork, usually close to the edge of a forest. The nest is a bulky platform made of sticks and lined with greenery, where the female lays two to four eggs. Incubation is for about 33 to 38 days, and when the chicks hatch they are brooded by their mother for three weeks, the male supplying food. Fledging is when the young are about 50 to 60 days old, and both parents continue to feed them for six to eight weeks more. At three years old they are reproductively mature.
Currently the Common buzzard is not seen to be globally threatened. Historically, in the UK, they were affected by frequent persecution by gamekeepers, which continues in some areas, despite now being illegal. These birds were also greatly affected by the huge decline during the 1950s of rabbit numbers, one of its main sources of food in the UK, due to the introduction of myxomatosis (a disease caused by the myxoma virus that affects rabbits).
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Common buzzard population size is around 2,100,000-3,700,000 mature individuals. The European population is about 814,000-1,390,000 pairs, equating to 1,630,000-2,770,000 mature individuals. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) resource, the total breeding population size in the UK is 57,000-79,000 pairs. Overall, currently common buzzards are classified as least concern (LC) and their numbers today remain stable.
As predators, they may have an influence on the numbers of their prey species.
Fun facts for kids
- Common buzzards are famous for the way they capture moles. They stare at the ground and, as soon as the soil moves, they suddenly fly off their perch to capture the mole without hesitation. Most of the prey is captured once it has been visually located while flying low in a circling flight, sometimes after searching from an altitude of around 100 meters.
- The Common buzzard has very good hearing, and can hear a mouse moving in the grass. When it locates such prey, the buzzard will soar slowly to the ground and run quickly, with agility, to capture the prey.
- If, while flying, a Common buzzard is baited by seagulls or crows, it will turn over on its back to claw the offender.
- These birds are often called a “tourist eagle,” people confusing them with eagles or Red kites.
- Common buzzards stamp on the ground in order to attract earthworms to the surface, and then eat them.