Back when I was in my teens I went on some holidays with a young naturalist group up in the Inner and Outer Hebrides. One thing I remember was buzzards hovering high above. As we were told at the time, they were very rare and you wouldn’t see them elsewhere. (as an aside, the picture isn’t mine. I’m borrowing it)
Now there are tens of thousands of them pretty well everywhere. Looking sheep the other day Sal disturbed a pair of them who were cawing affectionately to each other. If you’ve never heard a buzzard
This morning I took some feed down to a batch of lambs. Don’t think cute, think 35kg thugs. Anyway a week previously a bunch of bullocks had broken in to join them, and when they were chased out a dozen lambs and cull ewes had left with them. Anyway this morning I noticed that in the next field there were no bullocks in sight, but the errant sheep were present, watching anxiously as their erstwhile comrades were getting fed.
So as I had Sal with me, I opened a couple more gates and set about arranging for the wanderers to return. As I drove the quad into the other field, everything suddenly woke up. A buzzard that had been sitting in the grass near the gate took to its wings and flapped across to sit on the bridge over the beck. As it flew over, a brace of pigeons scattered and fled. A heron standing in the beck immediately took off to avoid the buzzard, wheeled round to avoid Sal, only to find that it was now passing low over the buzzard. So the heron banked sharply and sped of fast and low hoping to avoid being lunch.
As it was the buzzard seemed too interested in keeping a sharp eye on Sal and the quad.
Sal bounded across to the sheep and there was this squawk as a pheasant rocketed up from just in front of her. Now Sal does have this habit of chasing pheasants. Entirely fruitlessly it has to be said, but she seems to enjoy it. But in this case she had sheep to deal with so the pheasant was ignored and disappeared, skimming the top of the hedge and dropping to the ground on the other side.
The sheep weren’t entirely co-operative. They could see their friends and the feed through a low part of the hedge. So to them it was irrational for them to go away from this place, round a corner and through two gates when they could just try crashing through the netting. Fortunately the presence of Sal with quadbike support was enough to convince them that in this case the longer way round was probably the best.
One thing that did occur to me as I followed the sheep out of the field and shut the gate was, “What are all these buzzards eating?”
Given the population has increased from none to quite a number; they all have to be eating something. I once saw a buzzard strip the carcass of a 40kg lamb that had died. It took it two days. They have hearty appetites. Admittedly on the second day when I went to see what was happening the buzzard took a waddling run up before it tried to jump into the air and fly, and to be fair it did just about make it. But if you know what I mean, it was wallowing in the air rather than soaring.
If you increase the number of one successful predator, then the number of prey will decrease and something else will go hungry. That’s just how nature is.