Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Urban Buzzard

Buzzards* are so much more common than they used to be.  I spotted my first "urban buzzard" in 1999, standing outside in the back garden at my daughter's fifth birthday party.  As the riotous assembly of mini-Bacchae yelled and screamed around our tiny lawn, high as kites on sugary pop, I looked up and there it was, circling around in that effortlessly purposeful way buzzards and eagles have.  Perhaps it was waiting to see if I would be torn into pieces in the Dionysian rite taking place a few hundred feet below.

Until then, I had only ever seen them in deep countryside, and even then sufficiently infrequently for the exclamation "Buzzard!" to be worth craning one's neck for, even driving at speed.  Something has changed to tempt the buzzard and that other once rare and haughty robber baron, the red kite, further and further out of their rural isolation.  My suspicion is that the frequency and quality of roadkill on motorways and trunk roads has to be involved; you could compile an inventory of British mammals and game birds from the remains scattered along the central reservation of the A34 from Winchester to Oxford alone.

I wonder if these tweedy gents change clothing for their urban forays?  Somehow I doubt it.  "No brown in town be damned..."

* For American readers:  a "buzzard" in Britain is not a vulture but a large hawk, eagle-like in appearance and habits.  Buteo buteo, to be precise.


Andrew Sharp said...


I'm aware that road kill has been used as a way of sampling wildlife populations. Of course you need to take traffic density into account when doing the sums. You may recall that a few years ago you could get a special little plastic plate to put on your front number plate. This was then sent off for someone to analyse the squashed bugs. It turned out that there were far fewer than there used to be.

Mike C. said...


Some people "sample" roadkill quite literally, of course -- those pheasants and deer are always tempting... Not so sure about the badgers and the, ah, flatter specimens (pre-tenderized?). The decline in nocturnal insect life is self-evident -- we used to drive every Sunday to my grandparents' village in deepest N. Herts, and on the way back drive through a moth blizzard. No more. In fact, someone has published a book this year with the title "The Moth Snowstorm" lamenting this very same experience.