European Common Buzzard
The Common Buzzard (also known as the Eurasian Buzzard), is the most common raptor species in Europe.
The reason for its abundant numbers seems to be that the Common Buzzard can cope well with modern agriculture.
The population of Common Buzzards is stable in most European countries, and has actually grown in some of them.
The ability of Common Buzzards to thrive in areas with intense human influence is a hopeful sign that at least some raptors can adapt to the environment created by humans.
Common Buzzard facts
While Common Buzzards like to hunt from a perch, they are also often observed soaring in thermal currents, which is a common sight in most areas of Europe.
Common Buzzard Size
The Common Buzzards is a medium sized raptor that is slightly larger than a Crow, but smaller than most Eagle species.
- Common Buzzard wingspan: 110-138 cm
- Length: 48-59 cm
- Weight: 650-1,200 g
In terms of its wingspan the Common Buzzard is similar in size to medium sized raptors, such as Black Kites and Marsh Harriers, which are the most common species the Common Buzzard is likely to be confused with.
Overall, a Common Buzzard resembles a miniature eagle with its long wings and short tail. In fact, its overall size and proportions are very similar to those of the Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata).
However, on closer inspection it becomes clear that the talons of the Common Buzzard are smaller than those of most eagles, reflecting the fact that it hunts significantly smaller prey on average.
The Common Buzzard also has a strong resemblance with the Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus), but the two species can often be distinguished based on different behavior and habitat.
Similar to many other species of raptors in Europe, female Common Buzzards are larger than their male counterparts. However, this size difference is not very significant, and amounts to about 5-10% larger size in females compared to males.
A maximum age of 30 years has been observed for Common Buzzards in captivity, while 26 years have been documented in the wild.
Scientific name and taxonomy
The scientific name of the Common Buzzard is Buteo buteo. It is thought that there are as many as 11 subspecies, although some of these may be full species. The most common subspecies in Europe is B. b. buteo, followed by B. b. vulpinus, which is present in Russia, Finland, and northern Sweden. B. b. vulpinus is also called “Steppe Buzzard”, and has different migratory habits than B. b. buteo (more on that below).
European Buzzard distribution
The Common Buzzard breeds throughout Europe, except for Iceland and most of Norway. From Europe, its range extends eastwards through Central Asia and all the way to eastern Siberia and Japan.
Common Buzzard habitat
While the Common Buzzard lives in a wide range of habitats, from agricultural areas to old growth forests, it has two key requirements of its habitat in order to survive: open areas with access to voles and other small rodents, and trees required for nesting. So when it nests in dense forests, it hunts mostly in clearings and at the forest edges.
Conversely, it is also known to build its nest in small groups of trees, or even single trees, as long as there are good foraging grounds in the vicinity. Outside of the breeding season, Common Buzzards can be found far away from the forest, and they winter anywhere with good access to small rodents.
European Buzzard population size
The European population size of the Common Buzzards is estimated to be between 700,000 and 1,200,000 by BirdLife International, which makes it by far the most common bird of prey in Europe. The global population is thought to be as high as 3.5 million.
Common Buzzard behavior
The most common behavior of the Common Buzzard is its proclivity for hunting from a perch in open country, which is a common sight in most agricultural areas of Europe.
Feeding and diet
The main food source of Common Buzzards are voles, and secondarily other small rodents. In addition to rodents, it also feeds on reptiles, rabbits, hares, and small birds, though these form a much smaller part of its diet.
In years when voles have an explosive population growth, this results in more Common Buzzards moving in to breed in that location, as well as more eggs laid per breeding pair.
The preferred method of hunting is stooping down from a perch, but where no perch is available, can also hunt on the ground or a perch on a molehill. In some cases, it also hovers similar to a kestrel (though this behavior is more commonly observed in Rough-legged Buzzards).
During winter, the Common Buzzard also regularly feeds on carrion, most often in the form of roadkill.
Nests in trees, where it builds its own nest made out of sticks and branches. In rare cases also breeds on cliffs or in quarries. Lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated for 33-36 days. After hatching, young Common Buzzards spend up to 50 days in the nest, and continue to be fed for several weeks after leaving the nest.
In recent years, Common Buzzards have increasingly started breeding in close proximity to human settlements, and sometimes even building their nests in old trees located on the outskirts of towns.
This development bears witness to the fact that direct persecution of buzzards in Europe has largely come to an end, and partially accounts for the increase in population sizes seen in many European countries.
The European Buzzard is considered to be a partial migrant. In western Europe, adults are largely sedentary, while juveniles migrate in a southwestern direction after they become independent.
Populations in northern parts of its range, including Scandinavia, are highly migratory, with the largest part of the population migrating to central and southern Europe in winter (with some individuals even crossing the Mediterranean sea and wintering in Africa).
The Steppe Buzzard (B. b. vulpinus) is a long distance migrant that migrates all the way from eastern Europe to southern Africa in order to winter there.
Common Buzzards have also been found to be altitudinal migrants in several regions, meaning they move from their high altitude breeding grounds to lower altitudes during winter.
And finally, it is also well established that European Buzzards move towards areas with exceptionally high population densities of voles, and take advantage of the food abundance with more nesting pairs than usual.
European Buzzard conservation status
The conservation status of the Common Buzzard is classified as “Least Concern” by BirdLife International. Overall its status is highly positive, due to the fact that it has adapted remarkably well to living in landscapes intensively shaped by humans.
A great side effect of this is that the nests built by European Buzzards are often used by other raptors or owls for their own breeding efforts, and these species thus profit from stable populations of Common Buzzards.
The biggest threat to the Common Buzzard is illegal poisoning, due to its habit of feeding on carrion. In most cases it isn’t the intended target of the poisoning, since poisoned bait is most often used for wolves, foxes, and other raptors that feed on domestic pigeons and chickens. Luckily this practice is not very common anymore in the majority of European countries, but efforts should be made to put an end to it everywhere.