The sounds of the wild seasons
If wild geese provide the soundtrack to winter walks, the warblers to the spring, and the screaming swifts are our summer music, then it is the incessant piping of young buzzards that sometimes fill these not-quite-summer, not-quite autumn days.
In truth the adult buzzards have been calling to one another most of the year – only falling silent in the spring when they are making their nests and raising their young. But it is now, when most of the summer orchestra has gone quiet, that their offspring take centre stage if you are near woodland.
The call is really more like a distant child’s whistle, blown over and over again on the same note. It’s a very different sound to the wild and melancholy ‘mewing’ that the adults use to communicate with each other, strengthening the bonds between them, mapping out the territory that they guard jealously all year round. Instead I imagine the young pursuing their parents, mithering for titbits like nagging toddlers in a supermarket.
But we should count our blessings. It’s only 40 years ago that buzzards were relatively uncommon here, and only 60 years ago when they were a rare sight in most of the British Isles. Persecuted by gamekeepers for 150 years, then, just as they were making some kind of recovery, starved out by the myxomatosis epidemic that decimated rabbits, their staple food, buzzards have had a rough ride. Living in buzzard-empty Essex 25 years ago, I envied my Welsh friends, who could sit and watch those big, fingery-winged birds circling above, mewing – and piping – to each other. It made their lives seem closer to wildness.
Because buzzards – despite their sometimes irritating children – carry a sense of wilderness wherever they spread. And we all need more of that.
If you’re interested in learning more about identifying bird sounds, Cumbernauld living Landscape has a great fact sheet to get you started. You can find it on our website at https://cumbernauldlivinglandscape.org.uk/activities/ – it’s under Wild Ways Well, and it’s called ‘Brilliant Birds’.