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30/03, Devon. Another (un)Common Buzzard? (3 Viewers)

The Kerreran

Has hat, will stand in the rain
I've been umming and ahhing about this for days, finally decided to bite the bullet and ask you fine people.

The local gulls went off at ~1130 local and I picked this up from my kitchen window. One look at the underwing had me scrambling for the camera, and I got these two shots, craning up through the glass, before I lost sight of it. Both lightly cropped only.
Alas, the bird had clearly been sitting in a muddy field, so the lower belly and underside of tail are stained, hiding most of the patterning.
Common is very common and the default raptor hereabouts, with the last accepted 'other one' in 2008 [we are really not Norfolk here..], thus my caution.

So, is this an educational bird or do I need to bother the County committee?


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Doesn't surprise me - but, personally, and if possible, I should like to hear more about exactly what features visible here stop it being rough-legged buzzard (if indeed you think it isn't - which in fact you haven't said).
Apologies - I thought it was implied that I thought it was CB.

Two aspects which make the ID tricky; no detail visible on the tail & impossible to judge the relative length of primaries.

Excluding 2cy RLB
  • broad and well marked trailing edge to wing
  • lack of dark feathering around the belly/thighs
  • extent of black on primaries (particularly P5)

Excluding adult RLB
  • male would have heavier markings on underwing coverts in combination with dark carpal
  • female would likely still show dark feathering around belly/flanks/thighs as well as reduced in primaries (particularly P5)

There are a large number of odd looking Buzzards in the west country, but a quick google shows a large number of very similar birds:

Nice comparison here.

adding to Daniels helpful comment (thanks Daniel!) please note the following features:
  • orange or peachy (-buff/brownish) hues like this bird shows on the rear vent and tail are regular in pale/whitish CB (areas are also good) and bad (at least) for RLB
  • as already said by Daniel, the total lack of a dark pattern on the belly is bad for RLB, especially the unmarked sides of the flanks. Please compare Birds-online.ch
  • here is a CB with an uniform dark belly-patch, but note tail-pattern, lack of dark carpal-patch and darkish secondaries (Fiener Bruch, NE-Germany)
aspects which make the ID tricky...
Thanks - useful and instructive. Though leaves me not knowing how to identify the OP's bird as common buzzard apart from the minimal (not absent) dark belly. Given the low-quality photo (no offence), the darkness/pattern of the wing trailing edge and the p5 feature seem indecipherable - and the (apparently) unmarked underwing-coverts could easily be blown-out in the photo but marked in reality. Most (all but one) of your linked photos aren't really 'very similar' to the OP's as they lack that one's stand-out feature: large complete carpal patches.
orange or peachy (-buff/brownish) hues like this bird shows on the rear vent and tail are . . . bad (at least) for RLB
I didn't know that - certainly useful here (y)
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There are several pro RLB features: bold carpal patches and white leading edge of wing as well as apparently dark throat. Agree with Butty on markings blown away by low resolution, rear of bird may be stained. In any case only an adult male RLB could be as light. As to Common Buzzard it would be a very unusual bird (carpal patches).
If I see this in the field I really would like go and see the upperparts, otherwise better be left unidentified or default very special Common Buzzard
Excluding 2cy RLB
  • broad and well marked trailing edge to wing
  • lack of dark feathering around the belly/thighs
  • extent of black on primaries (particularly P5)

Excluding adult RLB
  • male would have heavier markings on underwing coverts in combination with dark carpal
  • female would likely still show dark feathering around belly/flanks/thighs as well as reduced in primaries (particularly P5)

Thanks for the details, especially including images. I do feel the need to point out that the first four are entirely unlike the bird in question, with the fifth only showing some similarity around the head. The last - the comparison with RLB - is a real educational one, though; brilliant. That is the thing with the CB, they are so so variable; Osprey to Black Kite impersonators! :)

I must also say that the bird did not have heavily-barred secondaries, which would shout CB to me; the dusky effect giving a strong contrast with the paler inner primaries is a classic for that species. The wings appeared almost black and white; light barring on secondaries with a narrow trailing edge. Digital artifacts are a bane.

To answer other comments,
The 'peachy wash' effect to lower belly/vent/tail is staining from the local mud [a terracotta colour and infamously hard to get out of clothes, never mind feathers], we're had a lot of rain here recently.

I should have apologised to all viewers for the awful photo quality; I was using a compact camera with lots of zoom through a double-glazed window at an acute angle, but you use what you have. And I am sorry to inflict those blurry messes on your eyes.

As to the upper side, well I got a brief glimpse of only the head and shoulders, so to speak, as the bird circled and the head appeared contrastingly paler to brown uppers. Alas and alack no more, no inner primaries let alone tail.. [That would be too easy, though] You can sort of see that in the head-on image [eye of faith, maybe?]

Speaking of, what is the opinion on the set of the wings? This is what really had me double-taking, as the literature [including Forsman] says that the lifted arm and flatter-held hand is characteristic of RLB. I've certainly never seen a CB do that!

I deliberately went into as little detail as possible in the OP as if I do submit this - which seems rather unlikely at this point - it will live or die on the pictures alone; they are the only solid evidence.
As soon as I got on it I thought it looked different, and while the hidden tail pattern and lack of darkness on the belly were definitely anti-, the raised arm / flat hand meant I had to ask people who know RLB well. After all, if CB is so variable in plumage, mightn't RLB be a bit, too?
All you can do is ask, right?
Thank you for humouring me.
Common Buzzard over my house the other day as part of an Eastward movement of Common Buzzards of all hues late morning. Yes I looked at it twice. No its not a Rough-leg: just as with the OP's bird the wing pattern rules it out, especially the secondaries.

Wing holding is continuously variable in both species dependent on not only meteorological circumstances but individual preference: for instance the New Forest raptor gurus will tell you of individual Buzzards that they know that routinely soar on flat wings rather than vees. It's no more of a guide than hovering.

IMHO the wings on the OP's bird are also too short for Rough-leg.

FWIW I did also check my Rough-legged Buzzard records and found that of 21 in Britain 2 were from the Isles of Scilly, so they aren't unthinkable in the South-West.


20240402 (4)_Buzzard.JPG20240402 (5)_Buzzard.JPG
The photos I posted were more to demonstrate the range/variability of CB, and I will admit there aren't too many which are an exact match for what you have photographed, though hopefully the comparison link was of interest.
There is a huge degree of variation with CB in the UK, which seems to be even more obvious in the SW. Have a look at this, which ultimately was deemed to be a CB, but had several rather prominent birders wondering.

No harm in submitting as a RLB of course, but don't be too surprised if it comes back as "not proven".
A bird in the SW would be more likely following fast moving lows across the Atlantic and on Scilly/Cornwall in late autumn, or as part of a wider influx from the east. The latter hasn't happened for a while of course, but a reorienting nearctic RLB following last year's storms is possible... Although a variation of CB is by far the most likely outcome (and still my opinion for what little it is worth!). Cheers.
Thanks again to all who took so much time to reply, some very interesting rabbit holes, there!
Hearing that there's no such things as species-specific flight styles is a bit of a blow [reminds me of large gulls, tbh..], but that's birding.

While I'm not entirely convinced that this is a Common Buzzard [it looked very long-winged compared to the locals, for one thing], I am certainly not calling it anything else. 'Buzzard sp., very educational'

[ I think 'Not Proven' would be an understatement.! ]

One thing's certain, if one day a R-LB does deign to fly my way, I'm much better equipped to ID it.

Good birding all.

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