By Kevin Collins
In July of 2011, just north of Roscrea, two young Buzzards were found poisoned just beneath their nest. This poisoning was not an accident. It was a deliberate, cruel, disgusting act by ignorant people in that part of the world.
Three pigeons, with their wings clipped, were tethered to the ground with wire and coated with a poison called carbofuren. What kind of people could do this? Apart from a crime against wildlife, there was a risk that children could find the pigeons and try to save them, and accidentally ingest some of the poison. A family pet such as a cat or dog could have had a horrible death if they came across these poor unfortunate pigeons.
The Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is a large brown bird of prey with a wing span of 1.5m. The upper parts are dark brown and the belly is whitish. However, Buzzards show a great variety of markings or barrings on the chest and belly. Some birds are very pale while others are boldly streaked with brown. The underside of the wing has a white splash near the elbow contrasting with the black wing tips of the primary flight feathers. The talons (legs) and cere (part of the bill) are bright yellow. Juveniles generally have a more streaky appearance and are paler than the adults. As in most birds of prey, the female is larger and are often mistaken as small eagles.
Buzzards feed primarily on rabbits, mice, rats, frogs and young birds such as rooks. They also eat all types of carrion especially during the winter, such as dead sheep and road casualties like rabbits and hedgehogs. They also eat large amounts of invertebrates, particularly earthworms and beetles. Occasionally, Buzzards are seen following the plough and gathering worms alongside the flocks of gulls.
The typical Buzzard habitat is farmland, both pasture and arable, interspersed with woodlands for nesting. Buzzards nest anywhere between the coast up to the moorland edge and can nest in urban areas also. In general, Buzzards live in higher densities where farm sizes are smaller and rabbit numbers higher.
The Buzzard was once widespread across Ireland, but like several other large birds of prey in Ireland, it was driven to extinction through poisoning, shooting and trapping. By the nineteenth century the Buzzard was confined to Down, Antrim, Derry and Donegal. Breeding ceased in Donegal around 1883 and Buzzards became extinct in Ireland shortly afterwards, after the last pair bred in Derry in 1891. During the 20th century attitudes changed, poisons like strychnine were banned and the population of buzzards has recovered. Buzzards have started to breed in Tipperary in the past four years.
The persecution of birds of prey was a widespread practise in the Victorian era but is completely unacceptable in the 21st century. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org