When out taking photos around Porthcurno valley, I have noticed that buzzards are the most frequent birds of prey that I see. This is to be expected as the ‘common’ buzzard (Buteo buteo) is the most abundant raptor in the South West of the UK. They are usually heard before you spot them as their distinctive “pee-uu” call carries effectively through the landscape. They soar high above the ground but swoop lower to home in on potential prey and to capture it. This makes them quite hard to photograph as they are usually slightly too far away and can fly much faster than you can move!
Porthcurno is a perfect environment for the buzzard to thrive
The wingspan of the buzzard is an average of about 110cm, which makes them larger than a lot of other common birds of prey, like kestrels and sparrow hawks, so they are quite easy to spot in the sky. However, their brown and white colouring makes them harder to see as they perch in trees or eat their prey in the undergrowth. During the winter months, the common buzzard tends to stick to more open habitats, like expanses of fields, with a few trees surrounding for perching and cover, so, Porthcurno is the perfect place for them to thrive and hunt.
When out hunting, the common buzzard often find itself being “mobbed” by other birds such as crows. Despite these birds individually being weaker than the buzzard, when banded together they can effectively intimidate and chase the buzzard out of the area. Other birds of prey that pose a threat to smaller birds, such as owls, also receive this treatment. However, they will rarely enter physical combat unless it is completely necessary, as this could end badly for both sides. The buzzards will usually land on a perch or fly away from the conflict.
Buzzard chicks are taught to fly by their parents before flying the nest
In mating season, buzzards usually have 1 to 3 nesting spots in their territory, which are alternated in use each year. The nests are made of sturdy twigs and lined with moss or other green foliage, usually spanning 1 to 1.5 meters in length with a small dip in the middle. The female lays 2 to 4 eggs, and the surviving chicks then fly the nest at around 50 days old. They stay close to their parents for the next few weeks and are reliant on their protection. In Porthcurno, during the summer months, a local buzzard breeding pair had a chick, and were commonly spotted giving what looked like flying lessons over the museum. The buzzard chick could be recognised by its mewing call, which was somewhat more discordant and fragile sounding than that of its parents.
Buzzards are protective of their territory
Apart from when mating, buzzards tend to prefer to live and hunt alone and are also very protective of their territory, never really moving more than 100km. These carnivorous birds feast on rodents, rabbits, carrion, and even worms or insects when their usual prey is scarce. Interestingly, this raptor has a unique way of capturing one specific animal, which is the mole. With most prey, the buzzard will circle overhead for a long time, over a large distance, until they spot the animal and then swoop down. With the mole, the buzzard will sit on a branch and watch intently, when the soil moves it will jump down and immediately catch the prey.
Maeve Cushla, Young Curator, PK Porthcurno
Habitat use and Hunting Behaviour of Common Buzzards Buteo buteo Wintering in South-Western Poland
Author: Wuczyński, Andrzej