Coiuntry: Nature Notes

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PIERCING WHISTLES ring out over the valley every day now as buzzards start up their annual mating routine. In twos and threes - sometimes even five or six at a time - the big hawks soar above the escarpment as they pair off and stake out their territories. On set wings, keeping their upward-curved primary feathers separated like fingers, they cruise in wide spirals for minutes on end without any apparent effort. Sometimes the birds are mobbed by crows, which deliberately harass them, making recklessly close passes and occasionally forcing them into sudden changes of course. Every now and then a crow pushes its luck too far and gets grabbed in mid-air.

Soon the buzzards will start building nests, or repairing old ones, high in trees on sites well away from human habitation. In the centre of an untidy mass of sticks they line a cup with grass or bracken, and both sexes take turns to incubate the clutch of two, three or four eggs.

Fortunately for the buzzards, rabbits are also starting to breed. Bucks are chasing does around in the open, in their own form of ritual, and by the time the predators' chicks hatch out in April, there will be plenty of easily-caught flopsy bunnies on which their parents will be able to feed them.