Buzzard numbers continue to rise in the north
Several readers have commented on the fact that Buzzards are becoming much more plentiful and have queried where the birds are coming from. The answer is twofold.
First, the Common Buzzard is a long-established resident in Donegal and in Northern Ireland. There are records of the birds being widespread and of breeding successfully during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, numbers declined and the species became extinct. The birds were breeding in two distinct locations: on cliffs and in trees in wooded demesnes. There is evidence of widespread shooting of Buzzards by gamekeepers in demesnes so it is speculated that persecution led to their decline and eventual extinction.
The second factor is that there is evidence of ongoing immigration of Buzzards into Ireland from Britain especially during the winter. So, while the species became extinct as a breeding bird in the north of the island of Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century, birds trickling in from Scotland maintained a presence of the species.
The first evidence of renewed successful breeding comes from Co Antrim in 1933. After that the species recolonized the north of Ireland pretty rapidly; counties Donegal, Monaghan and Louth are now the species strongholds.
As the birds bred successfully they spread south along the east coast. As the local residents spread their numbers were possibly supplemented by annual immigrants from across the Irish Sea. The species has established itself along the entire east coast of Ireland and is now colonising the south coast, moving through Co Waterford into east Cork.
While Buzzards are exclusively meat-eaters they have a varied diet and a number of different feeding techniques. A bird may be seen walking on the ground in a large open field picking up insects and earthworms. Another bird may be seen perching on a fence, tree or pole or even hanging on an updraft and scanning the ground for small mammals.
Yet another individual, in true raptor style, may be seen actively chasing small birds or hunting an animal as big as a Rabbit. Others may take the easy way out and may be seen soaring aloft on their broad winds and with their tail feathers fanned out, scouring the ground below for carrion to feed on.
As well as being found in Ireland, the Common Buzzard occurs throughout much of Europe and the Middle East. In summer its breeding range extends both north and east deep in the territories of the Russian Federation.