Buzzards hurl a challenge to the skies and beyond

A buzzard.
A buzzard.

An airborne eagle has a little more majesty than a buzzard. But on full power against mountainous clouds our Sussex buzzards can almost take us into the Highlands.

This spring I have been watching them daily over my home here in the woods as they soar higher and higher and sometimes into the clouds. As they go they give a wild, sweat call as they hurl a challenge to the skies and to any other buzzard below.

At first their broad wings wobble as they get a grip on the air and the currents swarming hotly from the ground.

They circle tight to grasp that funnel of rising warmth. Round and round they go until the thermal pushes them up, and on that thrust they mew. It is the skirl of moorland and the sliding scree, the granite precipice and the silver tarns below. That seems to be the picture this wild skirl describes.

Often our Sussex eagles span the slope of the Downs. Sometimes a north wind comes and pushes with turbine power up the scarp lifting the wealden air into clouds.

This is the buzzard loves most of all, and will go beyond our sight even before he enters cloud. I hear his faint cry of freedom, then he’s gone. Often I have watched these little eagles plummet from the heights. Wings closed, tails drawn tight, they become like meteorites, drawn swiftly down to earth.

After this daring speed, they open their wings just a fraction, just enough to make things safe, and then they slide onwards for up to a mile, and then turn, and come back to that same old oak tree with its emerald mossy branches, or the top of that old Douglas fir, wherever they have their nest.

These high rises to the zenith are all to do with strength and daring while the mates watch on.

Their love of gliding, of seeing that angle to the earth widen out below, give power.

Below them they can see every creature for a mile around. There the hare runs, or the rabbits scamper by the hedge. In those bracken brakes the adder coils.

They will note the friendly human, and the enemy. They plot the tractor turning furrows, for there the worms will be, for the Sussex eagles are not just masters of the skies.

Sometimes they have to march in the mud, and just eat worms. Perhaps that is why the ancient name for buzzard was puttock – which meant scrounger, oddbod, or just plain country yokel.

Those are names you could hardly think when you see them sailing into the blue like golden eagles. But even eagles were not thought of as majestic birds, necessarily.

To save a grouse, a sickly lamb, or a mountain hare, they were poisoned, trapped, or shot. The buzzards around this house live within a pheasant industry and make little impact on that necessary land use. Long may they continue to fly free high above.