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Published - 12th March 2021

Wildlife Photography - Common Buzzard

Sea Eagle Over Loch Etive

The Common Buzzard is one of the most common birds of prey in the British Isles. With mature birds having a wingspan of over 1 meter, they are often misidentified as eagles. However, they are easily distinguished due to their distinctive underwing and body pattern. Albeit younger birds do not have this until they mature, which can add to the confusion of identity.

Common Buzzards are normally brown with white patches of color. In rare cases, they can be the opposite, i.e. mostly white with brown. They sport yellow talons and legs and have relatively blunt/rounded wingtips.

Mankind's Impact on the Common Buzzard

In the UK, estimates support that there are over 300 thousand individuals resident. Worldwide, numbers run into the millions. However, in the British Isles, this was not always the same success story. In the early 20th century, Common Buzzards were actively hunted by landowners due to the threat to game bird numbers. This, together with illegal killing decimated their populations.

Numbers gradually increased again until the mid-1950s, at which point, the extensive use of pesticides by farmers, and the decrease in rabbit population due to myxomatosis; put the Common Buzzard into another rapid decline.

This situation remained until virtually the 1970s until the use of pesticides was withdrawn. Also, education played its part, and landowners predominantly ceased to target them. Most landowners now seem to agree that Common Buzzards pose no threat to humans. Since that time, numbers have gradually increased again.


Common Buzzard Diet

The Common Buzzard is relatively slow in flight, and for this reason, very rarely catches prey in flight. Instead, they are birds of immense patience and perch in trees (sometimes for hours) waiting for ground prey to appear. They mainly eat small mammals such as rodents, voles, and rabbits. They will also opportunistically eat the carrion of any animal.

Juvenile Buzzard

Habitat

The Common Buzzard favors boundary areas between woodlands/forests and open ground. They will enter open moorland, as long as there are trees for them to perch on. They are most prevalent in Scotland, Wales, and the Southwest of England, but they can pretty much be found over the entire British Isles.

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Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK, whereby dark green indicates large populations, and light green indicates lighter populations.


Behavior

Common Buzzards typically operate in breeding pairs and are aggressively territorial with other Common Buzzards, with fights often take place over territories that can be up to 3km in diameter. Breeding pairs mate for life, normally matching up in Spring. They won't nest in closed-in forest areas, preferring instead to place their nest near the forest fringes near their hunting grounds.

Females can lay up 4 eggs which are incubated for a month, the male and female sharing the job of keeping the eggs warm. A successful brood is normally 1-2 individuals. Youngsters leave the nest after about two months and are fully independent at approximately 5 months of age. Youngsters do not mature into breeding adults until they are 2-3 years old.


Stats

Adults are typically between 51 and 57 cm in length with a wingspan in excess of 1m. Females normally outweigh their male counterparts at up to 1.3kg as they are more efficient at hunting.

Juvenile Buzzard

Common Buzzard Natural Predators

Adults have no natural predators.

Where & When To Photograph Buzzards

The Common Buzzard is resident and active in the British Isles all year. They can be elusive animals to photograph in the wild. If this is your aim, then head for the dense population areas in Scotland, Wales, and the South-West of England. In Scotland, they are quite a common sight sitting on lamp posts and fences near roads. Indeed, I took two of the two tree shots in this article from the roadside.

If you spot mature buzzards in the winter in a general location, it is a good indication that the breeding ground may be nearby. Buzzard nesting sites are easily spotted in deciduous trees, as they can be anything up to 1m in diameter and 3/4m deep. During the spring, look out for circling pairs which is another indicator of a breeding site nearby. If you have honed in on a nesting site during the winter and spring, then monitor this area during the summer for signs of the birds.

If you don't have the time to spot them in the wild, then there are various raptor centers across the country, which are well worth a visit, as they enable you to get closer to the birds. When you see photographs of birds flying directly towards the camera, then these most likely have been taken in raptor centers, as such shots are highly unlikely in the wild.

Camera & Settings

As with most nature photography, I tend to photograph in auto-focus and on AI Servo so that I can continuously track movement. I have found I get a better success rate using an expanded center point rather than a center spot or maximum focal points. I use speed priority as a general rule and set the speed based on the focal length of the lens as well as the amount of activity of the animal.

Shooting in the wild, you invariably need a decent lens reach. However, if you are shooting hand-held and on the move, then it is worth keeping things to a maximum of 600mm and cropping in during post-processing. In wildlife centers, you can get away with much more modest lenses, as in many cases you can get within just a few meters of the birds.

References

Map distribution data interpolated based upon RSPB data & JNCC data.


Here is the link to my dedicated Raptor Gallery


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