Wildlife Column: Skydancing buzzards a real treat

editorial image

The recovery of birds of prey in England is one of our ‘good news’ stories from nature conservation. Rising numbers provide opportunities to watch the remarkable behaviour of these magnificent birds, and particularly the displays of the early breeding season.

Hen harriers and marsh harriers, the former a moorland breeder and the latter a fenland bird but now adapting to farmland too, provide opportunities to observe talon–touching and gift exchange between male and female.

To get photographs as well was a real treat

The last time I had chance to watch this was with a pair of marsh harriers at Cley Marshes in Norfolk. There used to be the possibility of seeing hen harriers doing this in the Peak District, but sadly persecution of these wonderful birds means that, for now at any rate, you won’t have the chance.

Readers may recall the photograph of fallow deer at Chatsworth sent in by Kirsty Swinburn a couple of weeks ago. Well, her camera has been in action again, but this time pointed skywards.

Her message read: ‘I had a real treat on my walk yesterday when I saw this pair of Buzzards doing their spring skydance.

‘I have never seen this before so to be able to get photographs as well was a real treat. It was just on the edge of Bamford Moor.

‘Do you remember the time, not long ago, we never saw Buzzards in Derbyshire at all? At least there can be some good news stories!’

Well, yes I certainly do recall when not-so-common ‘common’ buzzards were indeed a rare sight in our region. As a teenage birdwatcher I once spotted a buzzard high over Norton Lees, presumably a migrating young bird moving through.

Similarly, Paul Ardron and I saw one soaring like a tiny dot in the sky up above Castleton, and that was back in the 1970s. Those were special days when we saw a buzzard back then.

Today however, you can expect them to be seen almost anywhere overhead across our region, and both common buzzard and red kite are among the success stories of modern conservation. Along with peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk, and raven, these are birds back from the brink.

We could probably also add grey heron to that list.

Now is the time to look out for these displays since February through to late March is a great time to watch out for these larger raptors like buzzards and kites and also for the medium-sized sparrowhawks. Busy establishing and maintaining their breeding territories the birds are visible and often vocal too. However, the displays such as talon–touching and exchange of prey items in mid–air are a real treat and you are really lucky indeed if you see this.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on ianonthewildside@ukeconet.org ; follow ‘Ian’s Walk on the Wildside’ blog, UKEconet for more information.