Birds of the Buteo Genus of the Accipitridae Family

The name Buzzard comes from the Latin word Buteo, through the French word Busard.  The origin can also be traced in Middle High German, Buse meaning cat and Aar meaning eagle, together giving  “cat eagles”, this probably referring to the call of the Buzzard.

Appearance and Flight of the Buzzard

Buzzards are usually medium sized  raptors birds from the Buteo genus of the Accipitridae family. Their wings are broad and eagle-like easily reaching a wingspan of 120 centimeters or more.  The total length from head to tail is approximately 51 - 56 centimetres, the tail itself being quite short.   The females Buzzards are usually a little larger than the males.

With its broad wings and the short, broad tail, the buzzard has been described as a slow flier.  Their gliding and flying skills are outstanding however, and they use thermals skillfully to aid their flights.  The top of their beak curves to a downward point as illustrated in the picture on this page.  The head of a Buzzard is shorter and rounder than the more elongated head of an Eagle.

Picture of Buzzard
Picture of Buzzard (Buteo)

Buzzard Habitat and Distribution

Buzzards prefer a wooded habitat, often near or on moorlands or meadows.  Occasionally they can be spotted on sea cliffs.  The habitat varies from level countries to mountain areas.

Within the genus of the true Buzzards (Buteo) there are at least 26 species, although the status of some is the subject of scientific discussion.  Buzzards are common worldwide except in Australia, and India where they are very rare visitors.  In Central Europe only two species breed: The Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and the  Long legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus). The Rough legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) appears regularly as a winter guest and can be quickly distinguished from the Common Buzzard by the Rough Legged Buzzard having feathers all the way down to the toes.

The Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) is not a true Buzzard, belonging to the Pernis genus rather than the Buteo genus.  Similarly the Turkey Buzzard is actually one of the Vultures in America, Cathartes aura, also known as the Turkey Vulture and part of the Cathartidae family.

Food and Prey

Except for few exceptions they are specialized hunters of small mammals (particularly mice) and birds.   In addition, their prey may include reptiles, earthworms, insects, and carrion.  Although Buzzards may eat smaller birds, sometime a buzzard may be observed being chased away by one or more crows, the crow being a food competitor.

The buzzard is a actually a real opportunist where food is concerned - he will eat what is readily available.  In areas with rabbits these frequently forms the main food. But as a opportunist, it is possible for a buzzard, in the absence of mice or rabbits, to rapidly switch over to a another feeding pattern: squirrels, blind worms or rats for example.  If he sees a prey, the buzzard dives straight down like a brick from the sky, or from a tree or perch. The buzzard will even eat dead rabbits and roadkill. The UK's BBC Springwatch at the start of June 2006 showed a mother buzzard bringing a live toad to the nest. Toads can create a very unpleasant tasting excretion on their skin, and the chick showed little interest in eating the toad (probably quite a wise decision by the chick). The toad escaped and jumped from the nest which was 65 feet high in the trees.  Buzzards very rarely attack humans.

Nest and the Buzzard's Call

The Buzzard builds its nest high in trees.  They like to kep the nest clean, and the female bird lays 2 to 4 eggs in May (the usual number for her to lay is 3).  These are whitish or creamy in colour with brown spots. Incubation is 28 to 31 days. The first chick to hatch, has the highest of chance of survival. The chicks remain in the nest for 6 to 7 weeks.  At the age of 3 years old,  Buzzards reach maturity and are able to breed.

The buzzard's call is a like a long complaining miaow.  If anyone approaches a nest, the buzzards will fly excitedly around and cry their call above the trees. This behavior is their way of calling out an alarm.

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