Buzzard bounce-back

26 September 2017 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Birds
Buzzard bounce-back
Jon Hawkins

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

The beautiful buzzard is a common sight across Sussex, whether soaring high overhead on a thermal or surveying its surroundings from a fence post. In fact, it’s the UK’s most common bird of prey and so often seen that it’s easy to take its presence for granted - and it’s a presence you can’t really miss. This is a big bird with a wingspan of up to 1.4 metres and a wonderfully wild, cat-like call that often provides the first cue to look up.

But this hasn’t always been the case, and as recently as the 1950s the Sussex skies were completely empty of buzzards. The species was almost lost to the UK completely after heavy persecution in the 1800s, when Victorian landowners and gamekeepers were wrongly convinced that buzzards would decimate their pheasants and grouse. From 1841-77, just seven buzzards were seen in Sussex and six of those were shot. By 1887, the once-widespread species was rare enough to be included in a book of Lost and Vanishing Birds, clinging on in just a handful of wilder places in Wales and south-west England, the Lake District and western Scotland - well away from the gamekeepers’ guns.

Persecution lessened during the two World Wars and buzzard populations began a slow recovery until 1955, when myxomatosis outbreaks decimated rabbit populations and caused widespread buzzard food shortages. At the same time, the ongoing use of organochlorine pesticides like DDT caused catastrophic eggshell-thinning in contaminated birds, literally crushing any attempts to reproduce. These chemicals were eventually withdrawn in the 1960s and with the introduction of better protection for birds of prey and enlightening attitudes among gamekeepers, buzzards finally started to prosper. In 1995 there were still fewer than ten pairs in Sussex but a mere three years later this had increased to an amazing forty pairs, and then to an almost unbelievable 100 pairs by 2002. Nobody had imagined that buzzards could bounce back so quickly, given the chance. Today there are potentially 900 pairs in Sussex and buzzards have re-colonised habitats right across the UK, making them one of our biggest conservation success stories.


  • Mair Williams:

    28 Sep 2017 11:32:25

    Amazing we have just moved to Southwater and have at times seen six buzzards circling above our garden. We are close to the A24 and they seem to use the road as a direction marker. One young bird often sweeps over the house and puts on an amazing flight display for us, wonderful well done for the conservation success.

  • Ian Williams:

    28 Sep 2017 12:29:42

    We live just north of the A264 Horsham By-Pass where we will shortly be blighted by the new and controversial North Horsham development. Buzzards have been nesting in the ancient woods behind us for at least ten years and we regularly see them over the house and the fields around us. The fields will shortly be no more so presumably no more rabbits either. This huge and arguably unnecessary development will devastate local wild life. Very sad.

  • Sheila:

    28 Sep 2017 18:51:37

    Today I saw seven buzzards and two red kites circling over my head at the same time. This was next to Kingley Vale near Chichester.

  • David Phillips:

    28 Sep 2017 20:31:34

    A Wonderful sight indeed across Sussex after many years when persecution was the only reason for lack of breeding success and spread .. I can’t believe Natural England / the Government are already allowing shooting of buzzards under licence by some landowners ( especially when the “evidence” they heard was considered in private !

  • John Hurn:

    30 Sep 2017 22:03:00

    It’s such a pleasure to see buzzards so regularly these days. Long may it continue.

  • S Bazlinton:

    11 Jun 2018 10:04:45

    Here in north Essex (CM6) we see buzzards on a daily basis, I have just watched three circling high in the peerless blue sky.

  • Sharon:

    01 Oct 2018 10:52:00

    Living on a hill facing Steyning We have in the region 5 beautiful Buzzard flying over our house on a daily basis and often sit on posts.
    Take a walk along King’s Barn Lane and you see and hear then

  • Jeff White:

    03 Feb 2019 18:51:00

    We live in Central Hove. during the summner of 2018, we heard gulls making loud warning cries.

    Going outside we saw 6 Buzzards circling high above our garden.

    Amazing to see them over our busy city.

  • John Wadey:

    03 Jun 2019 15:44:00

    Saint Hill and grounds – close to the Weirwood Reservoir, so often see them over and around – was interesting when one drifted by one of our film crew’s camera drones !

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