ArticlesCommon Buzzard

...often turned into other species!

“I’ve seen an osprey on a post at the bottom of a field.”

“There’s been an eagle on a Dartmoor tor…”

“I saw a Rough-legged Buzzard hovering over the marshes.”

“The Goshawk was sat in a tree beside the road.”

“It was a Honey Buzzard because it had a long closed tail.”

But what was that bird of prey?

One of the most common emails the Devon Recorder receives is about strange birds of prey that people have seen around the county such as quoted above.

Most observers inform us that they know Buzzards and that this bird was definitely not that species. Whilst it is sometimes difficult to assess a description, virtually every emailed or posted photograph that has been sent to the recorder has proved the strange bird of prey to be a Common Buzzard.

Although most observers (even experienced birdwatchers) have seen many Buzzards they are often caught out by the highly variable plumage and flight. Raptor enthusiast and photographer Mark Darlaston has kindly put together a selection of photos showing just how variable the Common Buzzard can be, and why it is so easily misidentified as something more unusual.

Some Common Buzzard facts

  • This is by far Devon's most numerous raptor, probably with a county population in excess of 1,600 pairs.
     
  • Common Buzzard are very variable in plumage, because we are lucky to have so many, we get an incredible variety.
     
  • Common Buzzard can be as white underneath as an Osprey – and sometimes more so!
     
  • Common Buzzard does hover – a lot!
     
  • Common Buzzard has a very varied diet. Hence they can be seen feeding on invertebrates in fields, catch birds (up to the size of a Woodpigeon) or mammals (up to the size of a Rabbit), reptiles (including snakes), amphibians and will often eat carrion.
     
  • Common Buzzard regularly soars with wings held flat (particularly young birds).
     
  • Common Buzzards do migrate.

Here is a selection of bird varying from typical plumaged birds, to birds in moult and with more variable plumage combinations:

A typical adult perched, but note the broad tail end band, which many buzzards can have
1. A typical adult perched, but note the broad tail
end band, which many buzzards can have.
A typical juvenile flying (migrating off Start Point)
2. A typical juvenile flying (migrating off Start Point).
A typical adult flying
3. A typical adult flying.
Looking large and even eagle-like being mobbed by a crow
4. Looking large and even eagle-like
being mobbed by a crow.
In heavy moult, with missing tail feathers, easily mistaken for a kite
5. In heavy moult, with missing tail feathers,
easily mistaken for a kite.
Very pale plumages that could be mistaken for an Osprey or Rough-legged Buzzard
6a. Very pale plumages that could be mistaken
for an Osprey or Rough-legged Buzzard.
Very pale plumages that could be mistaken for an Osprey or Rough-legged Buzzard
6b. Very pale plumages that could be mistaken
for an Osprey or Rough-legged Buzzard.
A very variable, buff plumaged young bird, looking long-tailed and quite Honey-buzzard like (even note the pale eye which is dark in adults)
7. A very variable, buff plumaged young bird, looking long-tailed
and quite Honey-buzzard like (even note the pale eye
which is dark in adults).
A bird coming in off the sea and flying with tail closed, giving a different appearance
8. A bird coming in off the sea and flying with
tail closed, giving a different appearance.
Some birds can be quite dark
9. Some birds can be quite dark.
Another very variable bird
10. Another very variable bird.
In very heavy moult the whole look of the bird changes, wings were even held bowed in this individual!
11. In very heavy moult the whole look of the bird changes,
wings were even held bowed in this individual!

Mike Langman and Mark Darlaston
25th January 2010