HONEY BUZZARD (Pernis apiviorus)

Bondrée apivore


Honey Buzzards are thinly scattered throughout Switzerland, found mainly in wooded areas and valleys of the Grisons, Valais and Jura. In the Jura they are recorded up to 1,000m and in the Alps to about 1,400m. They both breed here and pass through on spring and autumn migrations. They are easily dismissed as one of the more numerous Common Buzzards but have longer wings, a long neck with a smallish pigeon-like head, and a long tail with three dark bands.

 

The call can be distinguished from that of a Common Buzzard although it is of the same frequency (about 2.5 Khz) it has a piercing ring to it and is of a rather mournful quality which can be di-syllabic (two phrases - ke-leeer) or tri-syllabic (ke-le-eeer):

 

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There were two birds in that last recording made in Normandy in August 2009. The tri-syllabic call is the most easy to distinguish and has a sort of a "switch" in the middle of it, this can be seen in the spectrogram as a step up and down again:

 

 

 

Here is another example, again with two birds calling recorded at Biere in August 2008, you can hear one bird making the tri-syllabic call (at 1s and 7s) being answered by one giving the smoother di-syllabic call:

 

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......and the two types of call can easily be seen on the spectrogram:

 

 

Cramp et al says that the Honey Buzzard is less vocal than other species except during the later stages of the nestling period - and it is interesting that my only recordings were all made in the month of August.

 

 

BLACK KITE (Milvus migrans)

 

Milan Noir

 

Black KiteThe Black Kite is a summer visitor across most of Europe - the western Europe populations spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. In Switzerland they can be seen from about mid-March onwards, breeding adults leave at the end of July and the young birds a few weeks later, by September they are rarely seen.

 

A magnificent bird of prey with a forked tail which it uses as a rudder to steer as it floats steadily around looking for food. However it rarely takes live prey and is predominantly a scavenger feeding on edible waste and animal carcasses - it seems to be especially fond of dead fish on the margins of Swiss lakes. Hence it is usually seen slowly circling over likely spots for food. I have seen large assemblages in refuse areas if any type of edible waste is available, they will also congregate in large numbers when grass or wheat fields are being cut and insects and small mammals may be exposed.

 

 

 

It communicates by means of a far-carrying call which I have named its "long call". This starts as a piercing whistle tailing off into a rather tremulous wailing sound - quite unmistakable. This can be uttered both on the wing, either alone or when interacting with another bird,  or when perched.  It does not call regularly so the following file is a composite of three different sequences to shorten the time-line:

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The tremolo effect on the second part of the call can be clearly seen in the sonogram:

 

 

Here is another example from a bird calling more regularly near a nest - they seem to be more vocal close to their nests

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Black Kite

 

SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)

Epervier d'Europe

 

The Sparrowhawk is a small bird of prey that can be found throughout Switzerland, mainly in the valleys and low areas but can occur up to 2000m. It is a bird eating bird and as the name suggests is the terror of smaller species which it takes in dashing chases. It will frequently lay ambush to these smaller birds and seems to plan its attacks: it will watch out for a feeding flock  or regular feeding station then approach with low-level flight sneaking around trees and bushes before bursting in on a flock at close quarters. I used to have a winter feeding table quite close to a 2m stone wall and a Sparrowhawk would frequently fly at low level up the road outside before finally swinging over the wall right on top of whatever was on my bird table - and it would score most times ! The wings are relatively short for its size whilst the tail is quite long, both are thought to be adaptations to maneuvering around trees and bushes during a chase.

Whilst it can take birds as large as a Wood Pigeon as its staple, is more likely to be sparrows or tits, flocks of finches and the occasional thrush. When it is scanning an area for a possible victim a Sparrowhawk has a characteristic flight pattern where it will often fly in spirals or circles with a flap-flap-glide pattern to its flight, at this point the short blunt-ended wings and long tail are apparent. Both this open flight and the mad-cap dash at the end of the hunt are the two ways this bird becomes most obvious to us.

They are generally not known to be very vocal but near the nest, or a pair in the breeding season, will communicate by sound. I made these recordings in August in Normandy, at the fringe of a woodland and heard a pair in the distance calling, they then came close and circled over my head and I could record them through the tree canopy until a passing aircraft interrupted the scene:

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Luckily they were not deterred by the plane and continued to circle around, occasionally one making mock charges at the other, although it was hard to see properly due to the leaf cover it seemed to me that the cries were coming from both and since (as in many birds of prey) the female is considerably bigger than the male I was pretty sure this was a pair:

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Strange as it may seem there is a high resemblance between the shape and plumage of the Cuckoo and the Sparrowhawk. Recent research suggests that this is not just limited to human perception and that the barring on the Cuckoo may cause small birds to stay away to some extent, hence making it easier for the Cuckoo to lay its eggs in their nest without interference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUZZARD (Buteo buteo)

 

Buse variable

 

BuzzardThe Buzzard is perhaps the most common bird of prey in Switzerland.Most often seen when it is circling overhead, it is easily told by its darker secondary feathers under the wings, often showing a very clear "thumb-patch" at their outer edge. The birds in the Lac Leman region also show a very clear pale band across the lower breast - easily seen when they are perched, and they can often be seen in this position in winter when they stay at lower elevations and sit on fence posts in farmland.

They are very vocal but with a pretty limited repertoire - the call is a plaintive "mee-aaah", quite harsh, rising sharply and then trailing away. It carries over long distances and so is often heard faintly in the distance- but here is a bird that was perched only about 50m away from me:

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(Yes that was a donkey braying at about 8s in to that last recording !)

 

 

Sonograms of Buzzard calls always shows a lot of harmonics but the main energy of the call is between 2 - 2.6 Khz.

It starts at about 2 Khz, rises quickly to about 2.6 Khz, then tailing away to about 1.6 Khz which gives it that rather plaintive feeling:

 

 

 

 

Buzzard

 

This call is pretty much all they do - even in flight, here are a group of Buzzards in January that were circling overhead calling to each other:

 

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 There are small variations of course, most often around the nest or when two birds interact, here is another recording of a single bird that seems to be a shorter, rather more blunt call:

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Within forest areas, one of the calls of a Jay sounds very much like a Buzzard, I  have read that Jays may do this to avoid predation by Goshawks, but I am a little sceptical of that theory.

If we compare sonograms of the two on the same scale it can be seen that the two are indeed a remarkably similar shape but the Buzzard call lasts for about 1.5 secs whereas the jay lasts about half a second, also the Jay descends to a lower frequency than the Buzzard. I reckon that any Goshawk  worth its salt could tell the difference ! The Buzzard comes first in the following comparison:

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 
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