Buzzards and Adders

Another spring, another killing spree for the buzzards

I posted in some detail last year on the subject of buzzards killing adders, and as the seasons revolve, it seems like the time has come again for adders to be picked out of the young bracken.

Most people don’t like adders, and it won’t be heartbreaking for the majority of readers to see these reptiles being picked off by birds of prey. From my perspective, the spectacle is fairly upsetting. I am grimly fascinated by adders, and while I don’t really like the idea of spending an extended period of time with one, it’s a nice thrill to find one every now and again. Plus, they are part of the natural system of things up on the Chayne, so they warrant more than just acceptance.

It’s hard to explain how frustrating it is to see these snakes being picked off one by one by a predator popularly described as a worm eating carrion feeder. Conservationists have looked me in the eye and told me that buzzards don’t eat adders, and I’ve been called a liar by people who should know better. The fact is that there can be no doubt that adders sit below buzzards in the food chain. Adders are becoming an endangered species in many areas, and it can’t help that they are under pressure from expanding populations of generalist predators. Over the past twenty years, buzzards have become the most common bird of prey in Britain, and this profusion of numbers is without a doubt having an impact on other species.

In just quarter of an hour this afternoon, I watched a buzzard catch and kill two adders and carry them back to its nest. I was in a hurry and couldn’t watch any longer, but there’s no reason to believe that this profitable hunting technique isn’t going on all day every day, snakes permitting. I managed to take this photograph (above) as well as a few others, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I see it happening again and again over the next few weeks until the bracken is high enough to give the snakes some shelter.

It is the same pair of birds that I saw catching snakes last year, and I will concede that the behaviour is rare, but it doesn’t need to be widespread for there to be major impacts on snake populations. However, I now must sit and watch as yet another year goes by and buzzards continue to pick rare reptiles out of the bracken. I don’t stand to make any money from snakes, and I’m not the stereotypical grouse shooter portrayed by the media as a tweedy hawk throttler. I am genuinely worried by rising numbers of buzzards, and I can see that conservation is about much more than just looking after your favourite species.


3 thoughts on “Buzzards and Adders

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I’ve only ever witnessed this spectacle once and that was many years ago on the Isle of Mull.
    I spend a lot of time out in the field (Angus Glens – good adder population in several areas) watching all raptors and have never witnessed a Buzzard make a kill of any description.
    I was beginning to think that they lived off fresh air!!!!!!!

  2. Hi

    I witnessed a Common Buzzard take an Adder in Northumberland on 19th May as I was returning to Newcastle after a days bird watching in the Harthope Valley. The bird lifted from the road verge with Adder dangling beneath it. My companions can confirm. Personally this is the first time I have witnessed this and why I’m checking it out on the internet as I’m interested in how the Buzzard handles the snake. Certainly not uncommon in southern Africa for some raptors to prey on snakes.


  3. Jason clamp

    I agree totally with you, I have seen Buzzards taking Adders on many occasions at this time of year. However it doesn’t stop there, they also love frogs and wait for young frogs to leave their home water.
    Anyone that says you are a liar is in denial !!

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