RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...February 24

My wife found this dead buzzard in the woods near our home.

I examined it and found no wounds from shooting or death by poisoning. However, the breast-bone stood up like the keel of a ship so I concluded the mini eagle had died from starvation. It was lying next to a pheasant pen.

No doubt it had been attracted there by the presence of mice and rats feeding on loose grain.

The occasional enlightened gamekeeper of the Victorian era knew the value of buzzards as scavengers of wounded or sickly pheasants, but mainly as caretakers of the feed bins.

Scottish landowner Robert Gray, writing in 1895, described the usefulness of buzzards around the pheasant pens.

Again in 1955 a landowner kept daily watch on a particular buzzard in Ross-shire for six months. Early in the morning it left its roost in a nearby oak wood and flew to a local rick-yard. There it spent all day on a straw stack dropping down now and then to catch a rat or mouse, carrying the prey back up onto the stack to eat at leisure.

Like the barn owl, the buzzard is without any doubt the farmer’s friend.

Indeed, since the increase of buzzards in West Sussex since 1995, I have found fewer and fewer rats and mice plaguing this house, surrounded even so as we are, by pheasant release pens.

Fifteen years ago ten pairs of buzzards were proved to have bred in the whole of our county. The figure now is more like 300 pairs.

Thank goodness and enlightenment by the RSPB’s continual campaigns against persecution of birds of prey, this has happened after some two centuries of persecution.

Only the rats benefited from our ignorance.

After a cold winter and a scarcity of woodmice, those buzzards which have survived came out in force on the pleasant sunny spring day a fortnight ago on February 8.

Seven came over the house, mewing together like cats.

This wild calling came down from their height of almost 1,000 feet as they circled in a new spring thermal altogether in a towering spiral. These birds were out on cue declaring their bondings and pairings, or adjusting to fresh partnerships in the case of younger birds.

Last autumn before the snow, there were ten birds. So it may be that three have not survived the frosts.

One of their staple dietary infills when meat is in short supply is earthworms. They cannot get those in frosts.

This winter some birds in Ireland have been fed successfully on bird tables, but I have not been successful in attracting them down.

Anyway the weakest will go to the wall and the rest will adjust to what is available in the wild.

And they can only do good to us.