If you spot a large bird soaring in the sky, its straight wings motionless, the tips of its wing feathers curled upwards, tail spread out, you are likely to be looking at the UK's commonest and most widespread bird of prey, the Buzzard.
It soars in the air, its keen eyesight scanning the ground for prey; small mammals, birds and carrion. On spying one of these, it swoops, quickly and accurately, grasping and killing its prey with its sharp, strong talons. Or it will locate its prey from a perch and may even be seen walking, or rather hopping with an ungainly gait, or just waiting on the ground looking for invertebrates if other food is in short supply.
The area's wooded hillsides are a favourite habitat, yet it is only recently that Buzzards, usually seen on their own or in pairs, have become a common sight above the High Weald. In the 1800s they were widespread, but then they largely disappeared: hunted almost to the point of extinction by the Victorians, persecuted by gamekeepers, population crashes as myxomatosis decimated their favourite prey – the rabbit – and the use of organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, in the 1950s and 1960s, which affected the birds' ability to reproduce. As more wildlife-friendly land management has returned, so has the Buzzard; but it wasn't until the 1990s that they began to recolonise the south and east of England.
The birds, which are variable in colour from dark brown to much paler variations, soar, display and call mostly in the spring. You may hear a Buzzard before you spot one. It has a plaintive peeoo call, similar to a cat's meow and can often be heard from a considerable distance.
The Sussex and Kent Ornithological Societies have been recording Buzzard distribution for the last three winters and there are still plenty of areas in the High Weald where Buzzards have not been noted. You can help the society to collect "Roving Records" that will inform their new Bird Atlases. It is easy – just download a recording form from www.sos.org.uk or www.kentos.org.uk note your sightings and send it back!