24. The Buzzard
Nine-year old Abbie Hockin visited the museum with her grandfather and was intrigued to see the buzzard frowning on her from its high perch in the birds of prey display. She frequently sees buzzards in the sky above her home at Abbotsham and she knows a few things about them. She has written:
A buzzard is a large bird of prey which you often see in the sky in North Devon. Buzzards spread their wings to be carried up with the rising warm air to scan the ground for their prey, for example mice, voles, shrews, possibly lizards. They also eat worms and insects and small birds. Their favourite prey is rabbits. They used to be rare because gamekeepers used to shoot the great birds of prey down, but now they are protected.
Abbie’s information is good. A largish bird of prey in the skies over North Devon is almost always a buzzard. Buzzards frequently soar and ride thermals, when their considerable wing span of about 110 to 130 cm can be appreciated. They often perch on lamp-posts or telegraph poles and hunt from these vantage points. Their mewing cry is often heard when you are walking on the moor or on the coast path.
Numbers of buzzards in Devon did drop by perhaps a third during the outbreak of myxomatosis in rabbits in the 1950s and 1960s but recovered quite quickly. Devon birds also repopulated other areas of England where persecution by gamekeepers had eliminated them. The scientific name is Buteo buteo.