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Probably now Dorset's most commonly seen bird of prey

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Buzzard: stands out in a crowd!

We are used to seeing buzzards (Buteo buteo) soaring in the sky on sunny days or perhaps sitting on a telegraph pole or fence post but a report of between seven and twelve regularly standing in a field near Dorchester (just west of Compton Valance) reminded me that some years ago there were fifteen on the ground in a field near Puddletown. Is this unusual or bizarre behavior? I made enquiries and it seems not.

Most animal behavior in winter is driven solely by survival. Firstly, why so many together? In winter, as with most species of birds, numbers of buzzards in the south increases as birds from further north are driven south in search of food. Secondly why on the ground? In better weather buzzards eat small mammals and are especially fond of rabbits. In winter these mammals are more scarce and harder to find using the buzzard's usual tactic of soaring high and observing before making a stealthy decent for a kill.

In winter, especially, they eat worms, beetles and other invertebrates and you do not find those by soaring high in the sky! Instead, they need to be close to the ground, indeed, stood on the ground. Suitable places with a sufficient food supply can be hard to find as they need a fallow field, not one full of winter wheat, and they need the soil to be damp so that worms and the like are near the surface. Once one finds the right conditions others will 'flock' to it to feed, hence the strange sight of several stood, at safe intervals apart, watching and waiting for a meal. Standing on the ground means they are closer to their prey and can react immediately; it also means they save energy by being less active. So, it's true, buzzards can stand their ground and do stand up to be counted!

The buzzard population declined dramatically in the 1950s when myxomatosis decimated the rabbit population. This decline was exacerbated in the 1960s through the widespread use of a potent chemical, DDT, on crops which had a major impact on small mammals. Despite these setbacks the buzzard population has seemingly recovered over the past thirty years or so and it may now be the most frequently seen bird of prey in Dorset. That said it is my perception, and I have no real evidence to support this, that buzzards are again declining in numbers again.

The buzzard is a resident Dorset species and numbers are probably inflated during the winter months by birds arriving from further afield and the weekly chart shows that most weeks produce reports of buzzards somewhere in the county but, strangely, there were no reports in March 2018 and just one report in March 2017. I will watch March 2019 with interest; could it be our buzzards are forced to leave us in late winter to look for food further south across the Channel? This does seem to be the case with the red kite so perhaps it is true of the buzzard also as the two are often seen in similar habitats.

The distribution map shows shows just how widespread buzzards are in the county, seen from the coastal cliffs in the south, across the heaths to the east and inland along the chalk downs in the north. The most reports are of the resident buzzard at Holton Lee which is frequently seen.

Your best chance of a guaranteed sight of a buzzard, if anything in the bird world can be guaranteed, is to go the heathland and woodland areas of Holton Lee to see the resident bird.


Common Name Buzzard
Scientific Name Buteo buteo
Species Group Birds Raptors
Status Frequent
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

Large birds soaring in the sky on sunny days

Identification Notes
  • Probably now the most common bird of prey in Dorset and in winter numbers are boosted by incoming migrant birds
  • They can appear in quite large groups in fields in cold weather where they feed on worms and grubs
  • On cold, dull days when they cannot soar they can be see sitting glumly on fence posts and telegraph poles 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Raptors