The furore that greeted news that Defra was considering plans to destroy buzzard nests and imprison adult buzzards to remove them from pheasant shooting estates in England has been huge. And if you are one of the many people who have already written to your MP – thank you!
Robin Prytherch has been studying buzzards for over 30 years in an area of 75 sq. km. near Bristol. Territoral pairs and breeding results have been recorded. Special aspects of the study have been social behaviour and life histories of individual birds – we thought we would see what he has to say about the Defra idea – here’s his guest blog.
When I heard about the Defra proposals for controlling buzzards on a Northumberland pheasant shoot I was outraged! It sounded like plans for the protection of pheasants drawn up in 1712, 1812 or even 1912. But not for 2012, surely? Yes it is true, and time for me to get serious.
I have investigated many aspects of the lives of buzzards including their social behaviour and breeding biology over more than 30 years near Bristol. The idea of destroying nests and attempting to remove the adults to other areas is foolhardy and cruel in the extreme. This idea reveals that the authors of the proposal are woefully ignorant of how buzzards would behave in such a situation.
Adult pairs (usually three years or more old) defend a territory (which may vary from under 50 to over 300 hectares). They will not tolerate any other buzzards in the territory (apart from their own juveniles) and the intruders are escorted out – sometimes they are chased and attacked and even killed. Other young birds are wanderers until they find a mate and settle into a territory. If a pair is removed from their territory another pair will quickly replace them. The whole idea of capturing these birds and holding them in “prisons” is repugnant. It is probably not feasible anyway and who is going to pay for an endlessly increasing number of birds being held for a lifetime that could exceed 20 years. Removal of buzzards will achieve nothing but stress to the birds and be a waste of time and money. So, I would urge all involved in this sad idea to think carefully again and to look upon buzzards as friends and not as foe.
Buzzard in flight - illustration by Mike Langman
Consider this: I am often asked ‘why are buzzards chased by crows?’ My reply is: ‘because buzzards eat them’. The truth is that buzzards don’t just catch rabbits, voles and other small mammals but also birds. The favourites, amongst a great variety, are pigeons and corvids (crows) and of the latter it is mostly carrion crows and magpies that they catch. When I tell this to people – including many farmers - they are often amazed and they instantly become a friend of buzzards.
Perhaps the pheasant shooters in Northumberland should learn from this story and remember that we all live in the 21st Century and not in the 17th or 18th Century. It is for all of us to think and behave in as well-informed a manner as possible and not to hark back to old outmoded ideas about the countryside unless they have a proven value in our present age. My feeling is that Defra have let everyone down by not researching their plans more fully in the first place. The plans should be thrown out immediately.
If you would like to read more and perhaps drop your MP a line – here’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper on the subject.
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Thank you Andre and Robin. Powerful and informative stuff. I can verify the corvid claim as was lucky enough to see a buzzard pluck a carrion crow from the skies over Radipole Lake several years ago. Keep fighting the good fight!
Hmmmm. Slightly contradictory nformation about what buzzards eat from different parts of the RSPB website. I lifted some information, for a letter to my MP, that said buzzards only took small birds occasionally up to 500g and were mainly carrion eaters. i.e. not likely to go for larger pheasant chicks.
Strong stuff and good to read (both this and Martin's article). Hope to see more on the main RSPB webpage.