Friday, June 13, 2014

The Common Buzzard: Vulture or Hawk?

Some people mistakenly call our native vultures buzzards.  What they may not know is that a buzzard is in fact closely related to a hawk. 

Long long ago when people started moving to North America from Europe they would look at the skies and say, “Look at the buzzard.”  Little did they realize that the bird soaring overhead wasn’t really a buzzard.  It was a vulture that looked similar in flight to the buzzards found throughout Europe. 

Rochester, WBS's Common Buzzard (Photo: Christina Ranken)

A great example of a buzzard is the Common Buzzard, Buteo buteo.  Common Buzzards are found throughout  Europe, extending into Asia.  If you ever go to Europe, the best way to spot them is when they are soaring around in circles, just like our vultures do here in the U.S.  Also, the Common Buzzard often will have a “v” shape, with the ends of their wings well above their backs as they soar—again, just like our Turkey Vulture here in the U.S.   

During mating season the Common Buzzard male will perform aerial displays to impress a potential mate, soaring, tumbling, and loop the loop in the sky.  This impressive display is called a “roller coaster”.

After finding a mate the pair will then build a nest.  The female will lay a clutch of two to four eggs.  Common Buzzards do not reach sexual maturity until they are three years old.  They are also known to have a life span of twenty-five years in the wild.  This is quite long for a hawk their size. 

This buzzard falls into two groups—the Eastern group which can be found in the Atlantic Islands of Cape Verde, the Azores, Canaries and Madeira, east through most of Europe.  The Western group can be found in northern and central Asia, as far as Japan.  There are several subspecies in each group.

These guys are not a threatened species.  As of 2009 the number of wild Common Buzzards estimated is around 4 million individuals.  Though they are doing great now, they were almost wiped out at one point in the United Kingdom, due to poaching and loss of food. 

Common Buzzards prefer to eat mammals.  Studies have shown that their favorite food is rabbit. They are opportunistic eaters, so even though rabbits and other small mammals are what they prefer, they will eat just about anything they can find, including snakes, lizards, worms and insects. 

We now have a common buzzard at World Bird Sanctuary’s nature center.  His name is Rochester and he is learning to become an education bird.  Soon he will be traveling with the rest of our crew to teach the public about Common Buzzards.  Be sure to look for him when you visit the World Bird Sanctuary (link).  He usually resides in the weathering area behind the Nature Center—unless he is traveling to an education program with our naturalists.

As with all of our animals, Rochester is available for adoption through our Adopt A Bird program.  Click here if you would like to adopt Rochester, or call 636-225-4390 XT 0 for further information on how you may adopt a bird.

Submitted by Christina Ranken, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


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