Coun­try di­ary: buz­zard and crows meet in aerial com­bat

The Guardian Australia - - Science / Technology - Derek Nie­mann

All through the spring, mewl­ing cries of rap­tors have scolded out of thin air. On clear-sky days such as this the buz­zard is com­plainer-in-chief, con­demned by nature to speak only in a mi­nor key. Even in the ex­al­ta­tion of soar­ing, the up­lift of raised wings is ac­com­pa­nied by a down­beat of dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Nev­er­the­less, the buz­zard demon­strates mo­ments of great ex­pres­sive­ness, when its pee­vish tones are trans­formed into gen­uine dis­tress.

Such a mayday came just as I was saun­ter­ing down the long slope from Sheer­hatch Wood. The call had me swiv­el­ling round to scan over the trees, only to be turned again by a pained cry that seemed to be com­ing from the op­po­site di­rec­tion. The buz­zard was fly­ing over­head, as­saulted front, back and sides by a pair of crows. The smaller birds were intent on ruf­fling a few feath­ers, lung­ing and jab­bing with mute jibes that might have said: “Egg thief ! Chick killer! Get out of our ter­ri­tory!” The hap­less buz­zard, their sworn-at en­emy, flapped in loud des­per­a­tion,

un­able to rid it­self of its tur­bu­lent

as­sailants.

Re­treat­ing dark shapes against a light sky, the birds were be­com­ing harder to tell apart. Ev­ery so of­ten though, the buz­zard would tilt to show the defin­ing shal­low V of its wings. And the V was not for vic­tory.

The en­counter was mer­ci­fully brief: the buz­zard’s alarms had ev­i­dently stirred its mate, which flew slowly yet pur­pose­fully to its res­cue. The clever crows weighed up the shifted odds and melted away.

The skir­mish had passed, the drama just be­gin­ning. The two buz­zards be­gan to cir­cle each other, one clock­wise, its mate anti-clock­wise, and it was if they were about to col­lide on a spi­ral stair­case. They all but clashed in midair, barely a wing­span apart, and then re­peated the haz­ardous ma­noeu­vre three times more. Was this an af­fir­ma­tive dis­play of mu­tual trust, each bird invading the other’s airspace, yet show­ing skill and re­straint in avoid­ing a clash, re­sist­ing the urge to at­tack? Such in­ter­de­pen­dence would be vi­tal over the com­ing weeks in rais­ing chicks that com­plain louder and more per­sis­tently than any other.

Pho­tog­ra­pher: Wil­fried Martin/Rex/Shutterstock

Dogfight be­tween a car­rion crow (Corvus corone) and a buz­zard (Bu­teo bu­teo).

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