Buzzards are from the family Accipitridaeas, the same family as many hawks, kites, eagles and other medium to large-sized raptors. The Common buzzard is estimated to be the most common raptor in Europe with a population well into the millions. Buzzards are stocky, powerful birds of prey, so what do buzzards eat?
Buzzards are carnivorous raptors that are adept at hunting a wide range of animals. Their diet consists of many small mammals such as rabbits, shrews and hedgehogs, birds, reptiles and all manner of rodents such as voles, rats and squirrels. They’ll also consume most types of insects and invertebrates. Buzzards consume meat both alive and dead as carrion.
A flexible hunter, buzzards are not fussy eaters. They’ve been observed to hunt almost any prey that is worth a meal and will happily scavenge carrion. There is one exception - the Honey buzzard. The Honey buzzard is rather unique amongst larger raptors as it specialises in eating insects, mostly wasp and bee larvae.
Read on to discover the feeding and hunting habits of these highly successful raptors!
A Common Buzzard eating meat
There are actually some 30 species of buzzards in the genus Buteo. All buzzards are considered opportunistic carnivorous hunters, though their specific diets do vary depending on the species and region.
Generally speaking, buzzards prefer a carnivorous diet of rodents and small mammals, with Common buzzards harbouring a particular fondness for voles and rabbits. Rabbits may make up some 60% of a Common buzzard’s diet across much of Europe at least.
Buzzards also hunt birds such as woodpeckers, pigeons and crows, though any similar-sized bird would be a valid target. Some Buteo specialise more in hunting birds, but on the whole, buzzards primarily consume small mammals and rodents. Whilst they do consume meat as carrion, live kills are preferable.
There are some exceptions, as some Buteo have primarily insectivorous diets, including the Honey buzzard. Honey buzzards are large raptors, but much to the interest of researchers and ornithologists, they are highly adapted at digging up wasp and bee nests, consuming their larvae in abundance.
Honey Buzzards have primarily insectivorous diets
Many buzzards that reside in northerly regions, including Britain, are strongly migratory and winter in Africa. A buzzard’s winter diet is likely not dissimilar from its standard diet, consisting largely of rodents, mammals and birds, both alive and as carrion.
Again, the Honey buzzard differs somewhat. Despite a lively summer diet of wasp and bee larvae, Honey buzzards will likely turn to more ‘standard’ raptor prey in winter, such as rodents, mammals and birds.
Buzzard with a successful hunt for a rabbit
Most buzzards hunt from a perch or hover close to the ground, swooping in on their prey. Rather than swooping from high up above the ground, buzzards prefer to hunt close to the ground.
Once more, we must mention the Honey buzzard which prefers to excavate nests from beneath the ground. They have specialised long talons and hooked beaks for this purpose and can dig some 40cm below the earth. Despite wasp and bee larvae being their preferential diet, Honey buzzards are also capable of hunting much the same as any other buzzard.
Buzzards could not really be classified as scavengers. Instead, they're generalist, flexible predators, or opportunistic hunters.
It's worth noting that buzzards are subject to some confusion, as, in North America, people often refer to Turkey vultures as Turkey buzzards, despite them not being from the Buteo genus.
Both buzzards and Turkey vultures are from the same family, Accipitridae, but are only very distantly related. So, whilst Turkey vultures, also known as Turkey buzzards (or sometimes just buzzards), are scavengers, true buzzards from the Buteo genus are not. This doesn't mean that buzzards aren't capable of scavenging, as they do eat carrion, but carrion does not usually make up the majority of their diet.
Close up portrait of a Common Buzzard
Baby buzzards will consume whatever their parents feed them, typically torn pieces of meat from live kills or carrion.
Common buzzards are now thought to breed in every county in the UK, so regardless of whether you live in Scotland or the Isle of Wight, there is a chance you’ll come across a Common buzzard. Buzzards are still far more common in Scotland, North Wales and Cumbria; however, you might be able to lure them into your garden with leftover meat.
The best time to spot buzzards in your garden is generally during early morning or later on in the day, usually during the early evening. More often than not, you'll be able to see them soaring high up in the sky over your garden.
Buzzard perched in a tree
Buzzards readily consume pigeons and crows, which are some of their preferred targets. They will actively hunt pigeons both in the air and on the ground.
Many seagulls are too large for buzzards to prey upon, but juvenile or seagull fledglings are often a more likely target for them.
Cats are not easy prey for most raptors, including buzzards. Not only are cats agile, but they’re also predatorial themselves and are equipped with sharp teeth and claws. As such, cats are not a common target for the Common Buzzard, at least.
It might be a different story for some larger buzzards like the Upload buzzard found primarily in Mongolia and China and the Black-chested buzzard-eagle found in South America, both of which can have a wingspan of some 200cm!
Buzzard launching an attack from above
Buzzards are certainly capable of eating squirrels which likely comprise a decent proportion of their rodent diet where available.
Nearly all buzzards eat rabbits. Rabbits are a dietary staple of Common buzzards, consisting of around 60% of their diet in some parts of Europe.
Where rabbits are available to buzzards, they will eat them. Often, buzzards will target younger rabbits or the smallest species of rabbits in the region, but some species can handle fully grown adult rabbits and hares.
Buzzard about to strike
Alongside pigeons, crows are probably the most likely bird to be hunted and eaten by buzzards. Buzzards generally target crow fledglings and hunt them both in the air and on the ground.
Mice can make up a substantial part of a buzzards diet. To hunt for mice, Buzzards will generally be perched on a post or tree before picking the perfect moment to strike. When it comes to hunting mice, precision is critical as mice are small and difficult to capture. Luckily for buzzards, they are experts at catching them.
As well as mice, Buzzards will also consume rats and hunt using the same methods.
Common Buzzard with mouse
It's relatively common for buzzards to hunt blackbirds and many other birds the size of blackbirds.
The staple diet of most buzzards is living mammals and rodents. They will undoubtedly consume carrion if provided the opportunity, though, particularly during lean winter months where live prey is at a premium.
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