Associations between abundances of free-roaming gamebirds and common buzzards Buteo buteo are not driven by consumption of gamebirds in the buzzard breeding season

George J.F. Swan, Stuart Bearhop, Stephen M. Redpath, Matthew J. Silk, Daniel Padfield, Cecily E. D. Goodwin, Robbie A. McDonald*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Releasing gamebirds in large numbers for sport shooting may directly or indirectly influence the abundance, distribution and population dynamics of native wildlife. The abundances of generalist predators have been positively associated with the abundance of gamebirds. These relationships have implications for prey populations, with the potential for indirect impacts of gamebird releases on wider biodiversity. To understand the basis of these associations, we investigated variation in territory size, prey provisioning to chicks, and breeding success of common buzzards Buteo buteo, and associations with variation in the abundances of free- roaming gamebirds, primarily pheasants Phasianus colchicus, and of rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and field voles Microtus agrestis, as important prey for buzzards. The relative abundance of game-birds, but not those of rabbits or voles, was weakly but positively correlated with our index of buzzard territory size. Gamebirds were rarely brought to the nest. Rabbits and voles, and not gamebirds, were provisioned to chicks in proportion to their relative abundance. The number of buzzard chicks increased with provisioning rates of rabbits, in terms of both provisioning frequency and biomass, but not with provisioning rates for gamebirds or voles. Associations between the abundances of buzzards and gamebirds may not be a consequence of the greater availability of gamebirds as prey during the buzzard breeding season. Instead, the association may arise either from habitat or predator management leading to higher densities of alternative prey (in this instance, rabbits), or from greater availability of gamebirds as prey or carrion during the autumn and winter shooting season. The interactions between gamebird releases and associated practices of predator control and shooting itself require better understanding to more effectively intervene in any one aspect of this complex social-ecological system.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8877
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Buzzard
  • Game management
  • Pheasant
  • Predation
  • Raptors
  • Rear and release


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