What do Buzzards Eat?

By John Clark

From watching Buzzards in the Bredon Hill area over the past twenty years or so, I have noticed that by far the most common prey to see them carrying is rabbit - although I have occasionally seen them with a rat. During the early part of the breeding season you can often see the male displaying with a rabbit, which he sometimes passes to the female in flight. I have commonly seen them feeding on rabbit carcasses. In the early 80's, when I was putting out carrion to attract kestrels to a photographic hide, a Buzzard came regularly to feed on rabbit, rat and wood pigeon (unfortunately never when I was in the hide!). I have also watched buzzards perching on fence posts and then swooping down on small, unrecognisable prey (presumably beetles (you can sometimes find chitin in regurgitated pellets).

When I lived on a Scottish island there was a very high density of Buzzards and it was quite often possible to reach or to see into, their nests. A friend is carrying out a long-term study of Buzzards there - including prey items. By far the most common prey (somewhere around 80%) is rabbit - followed by rat and then various birds, including on one occasion, Red-breasted Merganser. In winter I have seen them feeding on sheep carcasses, and once on a dead seal. I once saw a Buzzard stoop from the height of around 200 ft and some 300 yds away to take a snipe in dense rushes! On another occasion, I flushed a Buzzard from its nest: it contained two young of just a few days old - plus a complete pipit or skylark nest containing three freshly-hatched young - presumably convenient 'bite-sized morsels'! At lambing time, Hooded Crows were a real problem and one year I was asked to help by shooting some of the persistent crows that were killing lambs. I hid in some rocks and shot one with my rifle at a range of about 100 yds. Realising that I had only wounded it and that it was flapping around, I was about to go and finish it off when a Buzzard appeared from nowhere, stooped on the crow and killed it, then sat on a fence post nearby. When I went back later the dead crow was not there but I cannot be sure that the Buzzard took it.

So, from my observations, I believe that Buzzards will take whatever is available but they appear to prefer rabbit to other prey. They seem most likely to seek alternative food during outbreaks of myxomatosis and during the breeding season.

And an email

Hello Harry,

While I was ploughing on Friday afternoon, 2nd of Feb, a mixed flock of around 200 Gulls arrived and started to feed on the worms. Shortly after a Buzzard appeared and also began feeding on the freshly exposed worms. The bird stayed for 3/4 of an hour, leaving at dusk. It would let the tractor approach down to 10 yards before flying of a short distance. The bird was mobbed by several Carrion Crows, and up to 13 Magpies, but didn't seem too concerned. I've forgotten to say were I was, the field is at Pepwell at Norchard farm near to the Mitre Oak. The Buzzard and the Moorhen sighting was also at Norchard, (Worc Record No.9).

All the best,
Michael Southall.

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