The buzz on the buzzard

ONCE persecuted to extinction here, the buzzard, a bird of prey, seems to be making a comeback and we’ll probably be seeing more of it in southern parts, writes Donal Hickey

The buzz on the buzzard

At present the buzzards are being captured at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, Co Dublin, because the Department of Arts and Heritage says, “of the threat to air safety, including the impact on aircraft due to bird strikes”.

Under the Wildlife Acts, permits may be issued to control protected wild birds which are causing serious damage, the department added. Eighteen buzzards have been captured to date and released in counties Cork and Waterford. The permits were issued to Bird Control Ireland Ltd on behalf of the Air Corps.

It is believed that buzzards, which disappeared from here in the 19th century, started to come from Scotland to Northern Ireland in the 1930s, with others following later from Wales. They are now found in many parts of Ireland and mostly eat rabbits and rodents, but will take frogs, large invertebrates and the chicks of ground-nesting birds.

The buzzard has broad wings, a compact body, short neck and medium-length tail. It has a short hooked bill suitable for eating meat. It is seen sitting on fences and telegraph posts or soaring high in the sky, according to Birdwatch Ireland.

Strongholds of the species are in Donegal, Monaghan and Louth. A pair was reported to be nesting in Co Cork, in 2004, but the bird had not been seen in the county for many years prior to that. They nest in trees and sometimes on cliffs, usually with access to open land including farmland, moorland and wetland. They are often seen perched beside motorways, looking for rabbits or carrion. Like eagles, kites and other birds of prey, they have also be subject to poisoning recently.

It has been claimed that buzzards prey on young lambs, but Dick Warner, also of this page, has written that there’s no record from anywhere in the world of the common buzzard killing a lamb. However, he reported they eat rabbits, rats, mice and the odd magpie or grey crows, which farmers might welcome.

A final word on airports and nature. Hares have made a home on the grass between the runways at Belfast International Airport and, unlike the buzzards at Baldonnel, they are welcome guests. Conservation biologist at Queen’s University Neil Reid, is conducting the study of the hares which are not in the least bothered by the noise of planes. There are even suggestions they enjoy the airport ‘buzz’ and the vibration of planes.

The high grass, not cut that often, is also an advantage to hares. Counts show the airport has up to 60, a density level 10 times the average for the animal in rural areas.

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