Mountain Buzzard: The Ultimate Guide

The mountain buzzard (Buteo oreophilus) is an East African bird of prey. This is a fairly small buzzard that was once considered the same species as the forest buzzard, and as a result of this, there is little research about the now singular species of the mountain buzzard. 

As their name suggests, these buzzards are found mostly in mountainous areas and forests that are hard to reach for humans, hence the limited research. Despite this, the mountain buzzard is still one of the most special birds of prey in Eastern Africa. 

Here is the ultimate guide to the elusive mountain buzzard!

Appearance

The mountain buzzard is a small buzzard that is often mistaken for the steppe buzzard, as they both average at around 16-23” in length with a wingspan of 43-55”.

Mountain buzzards are mostly dark brown with a lighter breast area that exhibits very dark brown patches and markings. When in flight, these markings stretch out to look similar to the markings of bark on a tree, making for quite a spectacular sight. 

The underwing coverts, likewise, have a unique pattern like the chest. They are mostly a white color with brown patches across the wings and a distinctive black band on the edge of the wings.

The tail fans out into an open shape, which is useful for balancing purposes in the mountainous areas. 

As you can imagine, the mountain buzzard exhibits all the characteristics of a standard buzzard – such as the piercing light brown eyes, permanently angry and focussed expression, long and sharp talons, and hooked pointed beak. 

Male vs Female

The mountain buzzard, like most birds of prey, are sexually dimorphic.

This means that there are no great distinguishing features between males and females, which can make sexing the birds quite difficult without plucking away at the feathers (which they wouldn’t like).

In most cases, however, female buzzards are generally larger than males, so we can assume the same goes for the mountain buzzards. 

Are They Aggressive?

The mountain buzzard has the same behavior as the majority of buzzard species. When it comes to prey and small animals, the mountain buzzard is an aggressive predator that must be avoided at all costs.

Their way of killing is certainly very aggressive to ensure their kill. 

For humans, mountain buzzards aren’t much of a threat. These birds of prey aren’t likely to reside near human settlements, so they are unlikely to be aggressive to a human.

This is mostly because they are solitary birds that live in the inhabitable mountainous areas. 

What Adaptations Do They Have?

Like the majority of buzzard species, the mountain buzzard has adapted their bodies to become the ideal hunter. Their eyesight is near perfect, with the ability to spot prey from up to (or over) 1 km away in the air, which isn’t ideal for unsuspecting prey.

Their sharp and curved talons and beak allow them to kill their prey within mere minutes, so they can tear their findings into edible pieces for themselves or their chicks. 

Breeding / Reproduction Behavior

Unfortunately, little is known about the breeding and reproduction behavior of the mountain buzzard.

This is mostly because the mountain buzzard builds its nest in the fork of tall forest trees in mountainous areas, where humans and researchers cannot easily track their breeding habits. 

We can assume, however, that the courting and mating rituals involve some sort of aerial performance by the male over the female. This will involve various flying formations and calls, before the female allows the male to mate with her.

It is suggested that the female mountain buzzard can lay between 1-2 eggs per clutch, but the breeding season is unclear. In East Africa, the suggested breeding season is between January and March, but some chicks have been sighted in nests up until July. 

As with most birds of prey, we can assume that mountain buzzards are monogamous and share the duties of nest-making, incubating, and gathering food for their young. 

Their Calls / Sounds

The mountain buzzard produces a sweet call that is something like a high-pitched cat’s meow.

They will make this call when they are communicating with other mountain buzzards (for example, if they spot a predator that could threaten their eggs) and during the mating and courting rituals. 

What Do They Eat? (Diet)

Like most birds of prey, the mountain buzzard’s diet consists of anything they can catch. This means that small birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects are at the top of their diets. In Uganda, mountain buzzards have been reported to catch and eat bats in caves. 

Where Do They Live? (Habitat)

Mountain Buzzard

The mountain buzzard is most commonly found in the mountainous regions of East Africa, including Malawi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

These birds are unlikely to leave the highly vegetated areas of montane forests and mountains, hence their name. It is rare for a mountain buzzard to fly into open grassland outside the boundaries of the forest.

They are also commonly found in exotic plantations such as eucalyptus. 

Unlike some birds of prey species that like to live in lightly vegetated trees to allow access to view their prey, mountain buzzards are elusive birds that like to hide behind foliage. 

What Are Their Nesting Habits?

The mountain buzzards like to build their nests out of twigs, sticks, and leaves on top of the forks of tall trees in forests and mountainous areas. This is to ensure the safety of their young, as the eggs aren’t likely to be eaten by egg-eating reptiles at such a height. 

How Long Do They Live? (Lifespan)

Due to the elusive nature of the mountain buzzard, there is little research to offer an estimated lifespan figure of this bird of prey. We can assume that the mountain buzzard can live on average between 12-20 years in the wild if they are so lucky.

However, up to three quarters of wild buzzards die before maturity at 3 years old, and this is mostly due to starvation. In the mountain buzzard’s habitats, starvation is a killer. 

What Predators Do They Have?

It’s rare for a mountain buzzard to have a predator due to their incredible hunting techniques and unique survival up in the tall trees and hill tops. However, there are two main predators to the mountain buzzard – the first being reptiles.

As eggs and chicks, the biggest threat are egg-eating reptiles such as snakes and lizards who can climb the trees to feast on the eggs in the nest. However, as mountain buzzards are so territorial and immaculate hunters, it’s uncommon for a snake or lizard to be successful in their operation. 

The second main threat is, unfortunately, humans.

Deforestation and climate change has led to increased habitat loss (whether it’s to make agricultural farms or from forest fires), which means that the livelihoods of mountain buzzards have been changed dramatically over the last two decades in particular.

They don’t like to hunt or live in open grasslands, after all. 

What Are Their Feathers Like?

The feathers of a mountain buzzard have a distinctive, rugged, and unique pattern. Their plumage is predominantly brown on their back, wings, head, and neck.

On their chest, thighs, and underpart of the wings, however, the feathers are mostly white with dark brown markings, patches, and spots.

Like most buzzards, their thigh feathers are a fluffy down, whereas the wings and tail have more pronounced and stiff feathers to aid their flight. 

What Does Their Poop Look Like?

As there is limited research on the mountain buzzard, it’s hard to say exactly what their poop looks like. We can assume that their poop is mostly brown and liquid-like, possibly with white bits. 

Do They Migrate?

As juveniles, mountain buzzards are partially migratory. They tend to flee their nests, much like human teenagers, before settling in an ideal place once they meet maturity. As adults, mountain buzzards become territorial of their area.

They are only likely to take flight to search for food or if they are forced to flee their nests. 

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the mountain buzzard is Near Threatened.

The figures of the mountain buzzard species have been estimated greatly over the last few decades because of the elusive nature of the birds, which has made it hard for scientists to determine the population figures.

We can assume that the figures are declining due to deforestation and habitat destruction from climate change, such as forest fires, that disrupt their entire livelihoods. The smallest population sizes of mountain buzzards are in Malawi due to frequent forest fires.  

Fun Facts

The mountain buzzard was once considered the same species as the forest buzzard, until it was discovered the two species lived in different parts of the continent (with mountain buzzards in East Africa and forest buzzards in Southern Africa). 

Mountain buzzards spend the majority of their time perched in trees. 

Mountain buzzards are only ever either seen in pairs or by themselves. 

Mountain Buzzards are also commonly known as African Buzzards, African Mountain Buzzards, and Woodland Buzzards.