Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)

GenusButeo (1)
SizeLength: 50 – 57 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

One of the most common raptor species in Europe (2), this medium-sized bird of prey is recognisable for its rounded head and tail, broad wings and soaring, circling flight (4) (5). While the common buzzard’s plumage is usually brown, the exact colouration and patterning is highly variable, with shades such as blackish-brown, reddish-brown and pale whitish-brown all potentially exhibited. The upperparts are darker then the underparts, and the wingtip and trailing edge of the wing are also noticeably darker than the rest of the wing feathers (4) (5). Both the tail and flight feathers are barred, and the throat and breast may be streaked (5). The call of this species is a mewing “pee-yow”. While there are 11 subspecies of common buzzard usually recognised, which differ in size, colouration and plumage pattern, the exact taxonomic separation of this species is a matter of some debate (2).

The common buzzard has an extremely large range, with breeding populations located on the Atlantic Islands of Cape Verde, the Azores, Canaries and Madeira, east through most of Europe, northern and central Asia, as far as Japan (5). Populations in Britain, southern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Japan, and on the smaller islands are resident throughout the year. Populations from other parts of the common buzzard’s range are either partially or completely migratory, with those breeding in the northernmost regions making extremely long, southward journeys to overwinter in Africa, Israel, the Arabian Peninsula, India, China and Indochina (2).

In accordance with its expansive range, the common buzzard occupies a variety of habitats, but usually requires some degree of tree cover for nesting and roosting. Woodland edges and wooded areas, interspersed with open habitats such as fields and meadows are preferred. In winter, the common buzzard expands its habitat range into areas with very few trees, such as steppe grassland. While this species is mainly found on flat terrain or gentle slopes, it can also be found in mountains (2).

A mostly solitary species (5), the common buzzard is frequently encountered perched on a tree or post, or hovering in mid-air, scanning open ground for prey (2). Small mammals are most commonly taken, including voles, mice, rats, moles, young rabbits and hares. When spotted, the common buzzard makes a swift dive on half-closed wings and snatches its prey in its powerful talons. This species will also prey opportunistically on birds, reptiles, invertebrates and carrion (2).

Towards the beginning of the breeding season, the common buzzard can be seen engaging in spectacular aerial displays, performing soaring, tumbling and loop the loop, aerial manoeuvres (4). Between March and May, the breeding pairs construct a nest in a large tree on a fork or branch, usually near to the edge of a wood. The nest comprises a bulky platform of sticks, lined with greenery, in which the female lays a clutch of between two to four eggs. Following an incubation period of around 33 to 38 days, the chicks hatch and are brooded by the female for three weeks, while the male supplies food. Fledging occurs around 50 to 60 days after hatching, but the young continue to be fed by both parents for a further six to eight weeks. Sexual maturity is reached at three years old, and the lifespan has been known to reach 25 years (2).

During migration, the common buzzard may form flocks (5), which utilise thermals to glide for long distances with minimal effort (4). When crossing large bodies of water, such as the Gibraltar straits, where thermals are absent, this species climbs as high as possible before gliding over the entire expanse (4).

The common buzzard is not considered to be globally threatened; estimates of its population in 2009 indicate that it may number 4 million individuals (6). Historically, in the United Kingdom, this species was affected by widespread persecution by gamekeepers, and despite this activity having been made illegal, it persists in some areas (2) (7). The common buzzard was also significantly affected by the massive decline in the rabbit population, one of its primary food sources in the UK, which occurred during the 1950s as a result of the introduction of myxomatosis (2).

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is currently working to prevent ongoing illegal persecution of the common buzzard and other birds of prey in the United Kingdom (7).

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)