Some are a little snooty about buzzards, turning their noses up at the buzzard’s small feet and ‘drunken sailor’ amble. They think them lazy as they sometimes go for carrion rather than make a kill, embarrassing many a falconer this way, trying to show off their bird only to have it root around for worms rather than acting like a real bird of prey! I think I was a little snooty too. They are common here, I see them all the time - the name of our village, Wroxall, means “the buzzard’s nook”. They cry their grating cry far above my head, circling and looking menacing. Majestic for sure, but I thought they lacked that certain ‘something’ the peregrine or the sparrowhawk has.
Then one day I overheard my son and daughter chatting away about all kinds of animals and agreeing that buzzards were their favourite. Really? A buzzard? Not a lion? An anaconda? A buzzard!? All I could do is ask them why, and perhaps try to see the bird through a child’s eyes.
So where do I start with the reasons? Well, my son, started with their feet. Yes, small they are, but no need to be snobbish – this is to their advantage; they don’t need to catch birds like a peregrine does. Their feet are amply big enough to pick up a mouse in one talon, and crush the breath out of it, before biting off its head and taking it back to the nest. The feet are strong enough to grip and carry away a young rabbit, which I have seen, but not too big to prevent the buzzard from rummaging through long grass searching for a vole, or even a worm. And when rooting for worms, they are not being lazy, but efficient, my son says: Worms are good protein, and often easy to take – why waste time always pursuing a tougher target, one that could pose a threat? Do what is required! The buzzard’s success stems from this – it is a generalist, it can do more than most other birds, its range is its strength.
It has similar traits to humans too (if we are going to be anthropomorphic about things, which I usually am!), and I like it for this. If a male bird has been out hunting to feed the chicks and had been unsuccessful, he’ll often return with something else instead, a leaf to decorate the nest, as if this had been his intention all along, what he has been busying himself with. A man with a plan!
They have stress bars on the feathers, my son says, that show whether a year has been good or bad. Like I have on my face, he says, thankfully stopping short of telling me I must have had a lot of bad years. For the buzzard, if nourishment has been hard to find this shows as a bar across the feather. Finding a fallen feather, we are able to plot the bird's life, seeing that perhaps a hard time in one hunting ground was later replaced by abundance in another.
My own favourite thing about the buzzard though, is the indifferent disdain they have for humans. It stays clear of us, does not venture into towns, keeps it distance. Other birds do this too, but not in quite the same, aloof, way. A pigeon flaps crazily to get away, a pheasant gives an obdurate squawk before booming away all showily, even an owl gives itself away in escape. But when you walk past a buzzard, it’ll just drop itself out of the tree or hedge, fold its wings just once to take it to the thermal, and get itself up and away, without a change of expression in its face.
As I said, I try to see the wonder of nature through my children’s eyes, and I still can, to an extent. But it can often break my heart to look at them, awed by a nature that is on such a rocky foundation. And whilst their hero the buzzard, due to its adaptability, may do well, most animals, including us, don’t seem to have as bright a future. So my kids’ awestruck gazes can fill me with melancholy. My adult’s eyes cannot see just the innocence. But I can look on the buzzard and feel a little hope; it can move range easily enough and can change diet when it needs to. It might have a future. If we learn from its adaptability, perhaps change our diet, and many of our ways, we can have a good future too.
A book as majestic as a buzzard itself is Common Buzzard by Sean Walls and Robert Kenwood.
A few buzzard songs:
Old Turkey Buzzard…ok this is not ‘our’ kind of buzzard. The Americans use the word buzzard for a much broader range of birds, including vultures.
Homeward Bound by Paul Simon…cause that last song about buzzard was pretty shit wasn’t it? And there don’t seem to be too may more.
Is Anybody Going to San Antone – Charlie Pride…somehow this buzzard things inspires country huh?
Need a way out of this…Thundercat I suppose!