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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

13 December, 2013

Buzzards stand out in a crowd

Buzzards can often be seen on the ground
We are used to seeing buzzards (Buteo buteo) soaring in the sky on sunny days or perhaps sitting on a telegraph pole or fence post but a report of between seven and twelve regularly standing in a field near Dorchester (just west of Compton Valance) reminded me that about four years ago there were fifteen on the ground in a field near Puddletown. Is this unusual or bizarre behavior? I made enquiries and it seems not.

Most animal behavior in winter is driven solely by survival. Firstly, why so many together? In winter, as with most species of birds, numbers of buzzards in the south increases as birds from further north are driven south in search of food. Secondly why on the ground? In better weather buzzards eat small mammals and are especially fond of rabbits. In winter these mammals are more scarce and harder to find using the buzzard's usual tactic of soaring high and observing before making a stealthy decent for a kill.
In winter, especially, they eat worms, beetles and other invertebrates and you do not find those by soaring high in the sky! Instead, they need to be close to the ground, indeed, stood on the ground. Suitable places with a sufficient food supply can be hard to find as they need a fallow field, not one full of winter wheat, and they need the soil to be damp so that worms and the like are near the surface. Once one finds the right conditions others will 'flock' to it to feed, hence the strange sight of several stood, at safe intervals apart, watching and waiting for a meal. Standing on the ground means they are closer to their prey and can react immediately; it also means they save energy by being less active.
So, it's true, buzzards do stand out in crowds in damp fields in winter!