Long-legged Buzzard – Britain next?

by Lukasz Lawicki, Andrea Corso & Leander Khil

In our forthcoming paper in Birding World we described a very large increase in sightings of Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus in central and northwestern Europe. Below we present a short summary; a much more detailed text (also about the status in Italy), analysis and many photos of birds of different ages will be soon published  in Birding World.

PS. Many thanks to Richard Katzinger for his great photos!

In total, we analyzed 816 records in 13 countries from C and NW Europe, where Long-legged Buzzard does not breed. Up to 1960 there were 61 records of Long-legged Buzzard in central and western Europe, including 17 records from 19th century. In the 1960s and 1970s the Long-legged Buzzard was still a great rarity in central (31 records) and northwestern Europe (only four records). An increasing  number of records was noticed in the 1980s, and in the 1990s the sightings were almost three times more compared to the previous decade, a figure probably associated with the northerly spread and increase in breeding population in southeastern Europe during the same period. In the first decade of the 21st century  a dramatic increase in sightings of Long-legged Buzzard, both in central and northwestern Europe was clear. In this period, over 380 records were obtained by birders, including about 320 in central, and 60 in northwestern part of Europe!

In the first decade of the 21st century, in northwestern Europe the Long-legged Buzzard was most frequently reported in France (30 records), Finland (10 records), Denmark (8 records), Sweden (6 records) and the Netherlands (6 records). An unprecedented influx of Long-legged Buzzards was observed in central Europe in 2012 – about 280 Long-legged Buzzards were recorded, most of them in Slovakia, Poland and Austria. However, it is very surprising that only three records were obtained in France during the same period.

The main reason for the dramatic increase in the sightings of Long-legged Buzzard in the last two decades in central and northwestern Europe, is certainly due to the obvious breeding range expansion in southeastern Europe. In this period, for example, in Ukraine the population increased from 50 pairs to at least 250 pairs; in Bulgaria from 50 pairs to 800-1,000 pairs; in Romania from one pair in 1996 to over 100 pairs now, etc. Against the background of the large expansion of Long-legged Buzzard in NW Europe (eg. 45 records in France, 16 in Denmark, 14 in Sweden, 13 in Finland  and 7 in Netherlands), the lack of any record in Britain is surprising. As regard timing of the records in northwestern Europe, a very distinct peak is in September (the same as in central Europe). Therefore that is the best month to search for the 1st UK record.

Therefore, the birders from Britain keep your eyes open and watch out for atypical buzzards – especially in September! The long-awaited FIRST Long-legged Buzzard for Britain is still waiting for the lucky winner! :-)

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Number of Long-legged Buzzards recorded in central and northwest Europe by 10-years periods.

Photo 1Photo 1. First-year Long-legged Buzzard, Austria, September 2012 (photo by Richard Katzinger). Note that this is the most typical plumage of a juvenile rufinus with the obviously contrasting dark carpal patch, the pale head and breast contrasting with a darker  area of the flanks/trousers, these contrasting well with pale undertail coverts. Noticeable here the powerful head and  the long, taurine neck. However, due to the wing position, the ‘hands’ appear shorter than they actually are, making the typical long-wings of rufinus not obvious in this photo.

Photo 2Photo 2. Second-calendar year Long-legged Buzzard, Austria, March 2013 (photo by Richard Katzinger). Same bird as on Photo 1, now in its 2nd cy of life. Still with mostly retained plumage but starting to appear sun-bleached and abraded, in particular compare the ‘fingers’ colour that appear now a faded greyish rather than black as in Photo 1. In southern countries, the bleaching would be even more obvious with a paler plumage overall due to the stronger light and sun exposure.

Photo 3Photo 3. Long-legged Buzzard, Austria, September 2012 (photo by Richard Katzinger). Uncertain ageing, but perhaps an advanced 3cy. Note that the bird still show a pale iris (that is however not lemon yellow as in juv.) and that the S4 (secondary 4 and its relative GC)  has been just renewed being now in adult-type, thus probably indicating a bird in its 1st adult plumage. Also the presence of two moult waves on wings (with P10 latest to be renewed of 1st cycle) also point toward a 1st adult bird. However, the tail pattern seems to indicate an older bird. Iris colour is not always fully trustworthy to age some raptors as it is often influenced by state of health, change in diet or poor food supply and by captivity.

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