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I once knew a buzzard who swallowed a worm…

By Kat Holmes

We regularly have different bird species photo bombing our camera traps, but they are rarely birds of prey. However, our first iWild North Wales project results came back and we were in for a treat.

A beautiful common buzzard (Buteo buteo) was captured in the middle of the frame in Loggerheads Country Park. This impressive individual proceeded to feed on a worm and then take flight. A wonderful result but eating worms seems like odd behaviour from such a magnificent predator.

Buzzard camera trap

Click for video

Powerful predator

Buzzards can fly at heights of up to 1000 metres and are known for taking a perch, spying on their small mammal prey below before flying down to snatch it. This practice has given them the nickname of the “telegraph pole eagle” in Scotland where their populations are recovering; a happy trend that is taking place across the UK. You may also see them soaring high above pasture fields carefully monitoring the ground for their next snack. These are the kind of behaviours we would associate with the (now) most common bird of prey in Britain.

So has NatureSpy come across a new behaviour or simply a lazy bird with morality issues concerning eating fluffy little mammals? Well the answer to both is technically no but it is a new behaviour to NatureSpy camera traps, which is good enough for us!

Cleverly opportunistic

Buzzards seem to favour rabbits and other small mammals if they are available but will also eat frogs, small birds, carrion and large insects. It has also been discovered that they are partial to a juicy earthworm, particularly in winter when their menu is quite limited. This behaviour has been seen most commonly in Britain, including North Wales, where there is a significant amount of rainfall providing the perfect soils for earthworms. Buzzards have a long gut allowing them to extract energy from their food slowly. This allows them to survive on earthworms while other birds of prey would struggle through the winter.

A strange behaviour has even been described in which buzzards ‘dance’ on newly ploughed ground. It is thought that they are enticing worms to the surface by mimicking the sound of raindrops landing on the soil. Apparently large groups of buzzards can be seen in a single field performing this rain-dance! However, even with their strategic dance moves, buzzards have a long way to go to beat badgers in a worm eating competition…

Good news for camera trappers?

While their worm-wolfing tendencies may detract from their fearsome bird of prey status, it is good news for camera trappers. Frequently we will miss birds of prey as our camera traps are set close to the ground or they are just too quick to capture. Feasting on earthworms means they are more likely to be in our shot and for a longer period of time!

Keep an eye out for buzzards in your back garden too. My grandparents had one perched on their garden fence in a busy housing estate and apparently they are not alone — according to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch citizen science survey, buzzards are moving up the ranks of most commonly seen birds in British gardens.

We at NatureSpy are chuffed that they are most commonly seen in Wales, where they are ranked 30th out of 73 species and 8.9% of people recorded them…

The next event will see the camera traps collected from Nant Mill – and we need your help! All events are completely free and we hope to see you there.

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