Symphony for buzzards


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.





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7 thoughts on “Symphony for buzzards

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 17, 2018 at 4:12 pm Reply

    Looks more like some kind of hawk than a buzzard, but what do I know?

    Something eating things which would otherwise have to decompose in place is Nature’s way of being efficient. And it makes sense not to waste protein.

    Still get a kick out of Sal’s exploits, and your explanations of what the sheep might be ruminating on.

    • jwebster2 September 17, 2018 at 5:28 pm Reply

      I think that could be that the Americans use the term Buzzard for a type of vulture, whereas ours is a hawk 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 18, 2018 at 11:14 pm

        Didn’t know there was a difference. Buzzard/vulture have always been synonyms in my mind.

      • jwebster2 September 19, 2018 at 9:24 pm

        In the US (perhaps especially in the Southern States, they are synonyms.
        What we call a buzzard is only found in Europe and parts of Asia

  2. Auntysocial September 17, 2018 at 6:26 pm Reply

    Totally unrelated to this post Jim and my apologies for crashing but I’ve been meaning to ask you something for a bit and now I’m here I figured it’s as good a time as any.

    Possibly the world’s dumbest question but why do sheep lame so easily and so frequently? I rarely see a field of sheep without at least one hobbling about and I wonder what it is that makes their little pins so vulnerable. Their age and the weather / ground condition and terrain doesn’t seem to matter either sheep of all shapes, sizes and ages hobble about and it doesn’t half look uncomfortable. 😦

    Also (and my husband thinks I’m a fruit loop for actually believing this never mind asking you) I’ve been passing sheep for a few years that graze on bended front knees and it makes me think they need shorter front legs and will potentially evolve to have little weird front legs going on because the number of sheep that struggle just to get down and eat grass needing to get on their knees can’t be something evolution has done for their benefit. Either she’s working on a plan or has a very cruel sick sense of humour.

    If there’s the least bit of sense going on in my thoughts and / or you happen to have a good answer for all these things whirring around I can’t tell you how much I would appreciate a post to read your take on it all.

    Re: Sal chasing Pheasants. I don’t think there is another living creature that looks as utterly terrified as a pheasant running flat out from something. When my eldest collie (then just a year old) first met one in Cropton Forest she set off after it and the stupid sod ran like a demon with diarrhoea for a good five minutes straight. Why he didn’t just fly I will never know – he could have been up and in a tree in seconds. She would not come back for love nor money and I can still him legging it “Ooh! Ooohh! Quick run! Oooh oooh… Still there ooh!!!” and thinking my dog was either never going to be seen again or we’d see her but with a pheasant hanging out of her mouth :/

    She reappeared maybe ten minutes later absolutely filthy, covered in stickles and twigs and leaves…

    Nature has a weird way of doing things.

    A fellow Webster with far too much time on her hands sometimes xx

    • jwebster2 September 17, 2018 at 9:16 pm Reply


      Right, sheep feet. They can suffer from lameness. Thistle thorns can prick their feet and they can get stuff stuck between their toes. They can also get stuff stuck up the side of the horn (a bit like you jamming something under your finger nail)
      All these can hit sheep of any age, and we go through their feet on a reasonably regular basis just picking out those who seem to have an issue and trimming them

      With regard going on their front knees. Sometimes it seems to be that they have a sore front foot, other times it just seems to be they want to get closer easier.
      You can get older sheep which have some long term foot problem (like you can in older people)

  3. patriciaruthsusan September 18, 2018 at 10:40 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    About buzzards.

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