Suburban diary: The battle for control of the treetops

We live a few miles from where we spotted those five buzzards in the previous post – a short hop from where the suburban fringes give way to farmland. I often think of it as a kind of frontier: the west midlands conurbation finally (thankfully!) dissipating into copse, covert, and the rotating mix of arable and grazing pasture.

Inevitably the divide is blurred and, in the same way that the building line encroaches outwards, remnants of the former greenery remain trapped within the suburbs – parkland, golf courses, cricket clubs. Often bequests from benefactors long departed, these oases endure – covenanted, protected and inviolate; safe from the clutches of the developers. Being arboreal, they also make for a fascinating battleground…

Not quite enjoying the cause célèbre status of the “back from the brink” red kite, or the poster bird celebrity of the osprey, buzzards seem to have just got on with the job of reoccupying territories from which they had long been absent. As an aside, something similar seems to be happening with ravens, although not in anything like the same numbers. Perhaps the ready supply of roadkill is part of the equation; the apparently unstoppable rise in the local grey squirrel population seems to be another, at least where the buzzards are concerned.

Over the course of the last couple of years I must have seen at least half a dozen instances of grey squirrel being carried in the talons of low-flying raptors; always buzzards and mostly around the tops of the trees which surround the local park – a mix of tall conifers and broadleaf (horse chestnut, in the main). A couple have been young, possibly snatched from dreys; mostly they have been of adult size.

In the context of evolutionary timescales, this is a brand new food chain – the greys being non-native and relatively new to the UK. If it is a building block in the longer-term reduction in the grey squirrel population, then it is a welcome one as far as I’m concerned. The greys have had an easy ride up to now: the polecats, pine martens and goshawks which might have controlled their numbers are largely absent from our locality; there’s the odd weasel and that’s about it. Reports of a slowly recovering goshawk population, should they turn out to be true, will be welcome in all sorts of ways; the buzzards are doing their bit – but they could certainly use some reinforcements.





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