Our ringed Steppe Buzzard is still perched in the same general area - seen well again this afternoon. It has really picked its spot... we have experienced a spate of minimum temperatures around -10 deg C. At least she is surviving the chill!
Steppe Buzzard, Buteo vulpinus
The Steppe Buzzard is one of the most common birds of prey found both in central/eastern Europe during the northern summer as well as in the northern parts of Southern Africa during our summer.
It has a compact stature, with a round head and a rather short tail. Its plumage shows variable colours, generally rich brown, with lighter markings beneath. Beak is hooked from the base. Sexes are identical, but females are slightly larger than males. This is difficult to observe and can usually only be confirmed with a bird in the hand (by weighing it). Female birds on average weigh 820 g as opposed to the 620 g for males.
Primary feathers are dark chocolate. Tail is short and wide. Eyes are golden brown. Space between the bill and eye covered with bristly feathers; eyelids with soft downy feathers; the superciliary ridge is prominent. The bill is light blue at the base, with the margins yellow, the tip black; the cere yellow. The feet are yellow and feather-free, claws black, at the base bluish.
Immature birds are very similar to adults, except that their heads show white or yellowish stripes. Wings and back feathers edges are sharp and reddish-brown. Tail is pale-brown, uniformly barred dark brown. The subterminal band is generally narrower than in the adult. Eyes are pale but change quickly. Cere and feet are yellow and the beak is blackish. They get their adult plumage at 16 months.
Distribution and habitat:
The Steppe Buzzard breeds in Eastern Europe and Siberia; its non-breeding grounds include southern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. The buzzard is believed to mate for life. It frequents a wide variety of habitats: all types of woodlands, from small field bushes to alluvial forests, near marshes and rocky coasts. The Buzzard is linked to all kinds of forests, open country as well as mountains, but always close to an open space. It is also found in places where trees are scattered, in agricultural zones and in rocky areas in the mountains.
This Buzzard is often considered a lazy bird, often seen singly, quietly perched for a long time. The Buzzard starts its flight slowly and heavily, but when reaching a certain altitude, it soars slowly and spirals upwards easily.
Buzzards are regularly mobbed by other raptors, lapwings, crows and forked-tail drongos.
They have a gull-like, high-pitched mewing call, but are mostly silent while in Southern Africa.
The Steppe Buzzard arrives in Southern Africa generally around October, juveniles arriving later. Northward migration starts in March and is normally complete by end of April. Juveniles occasionally over-winter.
Birds tend to return to the same areas year after year.
The Steppe Buzzard has a great adaptability. This species eats small mammals caught on the ground, but also birds, reptiles, amphibians and large insects. During food shortage, buzzards can feed off carrion. This adaptability is perhaps the reason why it has high breeding successes. The bird can also get along with little to eat; the average daily food requirement for each adult bird is less than 140g.
The Steppe Buzzard is a slow, awkward flier, and has little chance of catching its prey on the move. The usual tactic is to perch motionless on a branch of a large tree, or on a tall post, its markings being excellent camouflage rendering it almost invisible. It is a patient bird, quite content to sit for hours at a time until prey pass beneath it. The majority of its prey is captured after having been visually located from its perch, during low altitude circling flights, but also after searching at an altitude of about 100 metres.
The Buzzard has also a keen ear, and can trace mouse movements in the grass. When the prey is located, the buzzard soars slowly towards the ground, dropping onto its prey. Occasionally it lands, runs quickly with agility and captures its prey.
664 Latest lifer: Ovambo sparrowhawk