The buzzard is a medium-sized hawk and is a common sight in the skies of Britain.
The buzzard is usually spotted soaring through the sky on its broad wings, which can span up to 60 inches. It has a stocky frame with a body length of around 20 inches. The buzzard’s plumage is highly variable, with some individuals being dark brown, while others are almost entirely white. Generally, though, they are brown with a pale underside, and juveniles will be lighter. Adult buzzards have a somewhat short, square tail which rounds when spread and has a dark band across the tip. Their wings also usually have dark tips. Buzzards have yellow feet, which are large with long, powerful toes and sharp claws. They have a short bill with a distinctive hook at the tip. Females are slightly larger than males.
Common Buzzard in flight
The collective noun for a group of buzzards is a wake.
Adult buzzards emit a long, distinctive mewing “keey ya” call. It takes juveniles several years to master this sound. Nestlings produce a high pitched double call when demanding food from their parents, which is more or less constantly. Buzzards will vocalise year-round. Their call is sharper when used in aggression and more explosive when used in alarm. In answering one another, pairs will often use a “mah” sound, and additional croaks and chuckles have also been recorded.
Buzzards will typically eat mice and other rodents, as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, large insects and earthworms. They favour carrion because it requires less energy than hunting does and, due to their size, are often able to steal meals from other birds of prey.
Common Buzzard with prey
Buzzards have been recorded in every county of Britain but are most common in the north and west of the country, specifically in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.
They like to perch at high vantage points such as tree branches, telephone poles and fence posts near woodland and hedgerows so that they can scan the ground for prey.
In spring, buzzards can be found in large gatherings at freshly ploughed fields feasting on the earthworms that have been displaced.
Given their large wingspans, buzzards are adept at riding thermals and can therefore most often been seen on warm sunny days circling in the sky above. Their wings form a shallow V-shape when soaring. Buzzards are known as lazy birds, so they will often be found perched on pylons or telephone poles, watching out for prey when they are not gliding through the air. The unique cat-like sound of their call is also a giveaway that they are nearby.
Buzzard close up
According to an International Bird Strike Committee study, the common buzzard can reach speeds of up to 28 mph and fly at an average height of 400 metres - but have been known to reach heights of 1,000 metres.
In spring, buzzards can be seen performing acrobatic stunts in the air to attract mates. Once this has been achieved, buzzards will often pair for life. They prefer to build their nests in trees at least 20 feet high, usually in a cleft between boughs, but will also use craggy cliffs. Both the male and female work to complete the job and perform the unique task of lining the nest with green foliage. Usually, they will build a new nest every year and prefer to locate it near woodland and open fields where their prey is most accessible. The completed nest can be around 3 feet wide. In mid-April, the female will lay a clutch of 2-4 eggs that she will incubate for around a month. Once hatched, the female will brood the young for a further two weeks while the male brings food, then she will return to hunting, and both adults will provide nestlings with food until they fledge. The fledgelings will stay with the parents for 6-8 weeks.
Common Buzzard nest with eggs
Common Buzzard chicks
The average lifespan of a buzzard is around 8 years, but unfortunately, many die long before that from starvation. However, they can live up to 25 years in the wild.
Buzzards inhabiting the British isles are sedentary and unlikely to migrate, but in other parts of Northern Europe, they are known to migrate to Africa in the winter months.
Two buzzards fighting
The buzzard is now safely established in all parts of the UK. However, this was not always the case, and in fact, the species was nearly wiped out in the 1960s due to the use of pesticides in agriculture. The buzzard is highly adaptable and can survive in varied habitats, from forest and farmland to mountainous landscapes. There is currently thought to be approximately 79,000 breeding pairs in the UK.
The collective nouns to describe a group of Buzzards are as follows:
Europe’s smallest eagle, the booted eagle, otherwise known as the Booted Hawk Eagle, prefers the warmer climes of southern Europe and south central Asia and whilst not threatened globally, its population within Europe is showing signs of decline.
A member of the sub-family of booted eagles due to its feather covered legs and named after the famous Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli, the species is considered endangered across Europe but secure elsewhere within its range.