A Focus on Buzzards

I’ve decided to have an in depth look at a few Buzzards, inspired by one that I saw on patch today.

I always like seeing Buzzards, they represent the fact that raptors can live alongside us if we allow them to do so. Also, the Common Buzzard is a remarkably variable species. Perhaps not as much as others but it’s a good bird to start off understanding moults and aging and so forth.

This Buzzard that I saw today was a very pale individual which I spotted sitting on a fence post (typical) by the field which was being harvested. Before I could get a shot of it on the post, it took off and headed towards Howe Dean Path where it perched up high in a Sycamore.

I think I know one of the Buzzards on my patch fairly well. An adult which has very typical plumage by is missing a couple of primaries in it’s left wing. I see it from time to time and suspect it is one of the pair that bred this year. This was not that bird.


Here it is in centre-shot, with the council depot in the background. One feature which I haven’t observed on other Buzzards is the white feathers which  think are on primary 2 on each wing? In fact, I’ll go and find a diagram which shows the various feathers in a Buzzard’s wing…

Here’s a general bird wing. I’m completely new to the whole numbering of primaries. I know some basic feather anatomy; primaries, secondaries, rump, tail, the basics. So this is a step up and hopefully I’m going to learn something here…


So this pale Buzzard that I saw had a white patch covering parts of the P8s, P9s and P10s (correct me if I’m wrong) which is something I’ve not seen before, so I’ll have to look out for that on other birds. Another thing I notice about the outer primaries is that they vary in length, better illustrated by this shot…

Buzz crop
Moulting flight feathers, pale patches at wing tips

Here, on the bird’s right wing, it’s alula is visible, and then P10 is full length, P9 slightly shorter, and the rest of the flight feathers are sort of varying a bit in length/age. This means the bird is moulting (or towards the end of a moult?) and is therefore an adult, which I know after doing a bit of browsing of the interwebz.

However, the white base to the tail says otherwise; this bird is a juvenile. But I’m thinking this is just a feature of this individual’s plumage, and the white does spread into the rest of the tail as opposed to being restricted to just the base. The tail is also quite short and square looking which says adult.

Clearly square, short tail

Going back to the wing, the dark trailing edge is just about visible in this shot, and the wings are also quite rectangular which are both features that confirm this as an adult Buzzard.

The next Buzzard I actually spotted just after I’d photographed that pale Buzzard. It was brought to my attention by the corvids which had had been feeding on the recently harvested field. Unfortunately too distant to see any defining features but nice to see 2 Buzzards on patch at the same time.

It’s one of the two birds that are at the bottom of the picture. The on that’s above the other one.

One thing that surprised me was the size of that particular Buzzard. I’ve always known that Ravens are about the same size as Buzzards, and therefore Buzzards are larger than Carrion Crows. This wasn’t the case here, as a Rook (the bird below the Buzzard in the pic above) was very nearly the same size as the Buzzard it was mobbing, and I think some of the Ravens that I saw in Findhorn Valley were larger than this Buzzard. Not sure how much Buzzards vary in size, and perhaps I’m not judging this Buzzard’s size right but I was pretty certain this Buzzard was only a tad longer-winged than the Rooks.

Raven from Findhorn Valley

Anyway, another Buzzard passed over later on, quite possibly the same one that I saw being mobbed, and I managed to get some silhouette shots of it.

Two of my shots were timed badly as I caught the bird mid flap:


Despite this, there are still features that can help me age this bird. That tail for starters is very obviously less square shaped than the other bird; this Buzzard is much longer, and perhaps slimmer, tailed.

Another feature that is also different to the other bird is that the flight feathers form a fairly straight edge, so they aren’t being moulted and are all the same age. The primaries are bunched together though, which may mean that the gaps are not being shown. But the secondaries are not bunched together and show a nice straight trailing edge to the wing, telling me this is a juvenile.

Unfortunately my pic which shows the bird gliding is not crisp, is is in fact very poor quality so any gaps in the primaries can’t be picked out. However, the wing shape (combined with those same-age flight feathers) is enough to fairly confidently say that this is a juvenile Buzzard.


The much more pronounced bend in the wing (at the carpal joint (just showing off my new-found knowledge)) is further evidence that this Buzzard that flew over me today was a juvenile.

So, I hope you didn’t find that too boring, reading about me learning about Buzzard aging and feather anatomy. I might just have a quick look through my Flickr page for better shots of Buzzards which may illustrate the features I’ve been looking at here…


This Buzzard looks good for adult (dark trailing edge in wing, short tail), although isn’t showing any signs of moulting. I’m assuming (remember I’m completely new to this) that Buzzards don’t moult all year. That sounds right to me… Despite this, I think this bird is a juvenile, and here’s why: there is no dark terminal band on it’s tail. You may say that my photography skills haven’t exactly captured the colours well, and you’d be right, but having had a fiddle about with brightness and contrast, I still can’t see a dark terminal band. So I’m putting my neck on the line and saying this is a juvenile Buzzard, or maybe just young? Maybe second year? I haven’t found any resources on aging a Buzzard beyond juvenile or adult yet so maybe I’ll have to do another short additional post after a bit of research.

The same bird, with a Jackdaw

Here’s a Buzzard which I saw floating above the Moorfoot Hills whilst I was looking for Whinchats.


This bird made me jump a little as it looked very much like what I’d expect a Harrier to look like, but my bins said no. The shape of the wings match with juvenile Buzzard but I think this effect is created as the Buzzard was hovering, or floating, by using the strong winds on that day. So I don’t think I can age this Buzzard.

Here’s a shot that I took back when my camera hadn’t had so much abuse, so the pictures were slightly better quality.


First thing I’ve noticed is the lack of a clear dark trailing edge on both wing and tail. The tail is also quite long, and there’s no evidence of moulting in the flight feathers. I also remember taking this photo and it was after the breeding season last year. So this one I’m calling a juvenile.

Right, last one. This picture was taken last year at Gladhouse Reservoir, very close to a nest site.


The flight feathers are slightly scraggly-looking and the tail feathers are all ragged-edged, so I’d like to think this is an adult. But there’s a lack of a dark trailing edge and the tail is quite long. I’m thinking this is a recently fledged juvenile with it’s feathers still growing in.

The same bird
The same bird

This picture clearly shows no defined dark trailing edge so I think this can safely be called a recently fledged juvenile.

If you think I’m wrong (which is very probable) then feel free to send a message on Twitter (@PinkfootedGus) to let me know what I’m doing wrong! I’d rather know I was wrong than learn things incorrectly. So if you’d made it this far, cheers for reading! Hopefully I’ll get on to gulls next… Or maybe Dunlin if I have enough photos of them to go through.

A Focus on Buzzards

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