The black-breasted buzzard is Australia’s craftiest raptor
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
THIS GORGEOUS bird of prey is Australia’s third largest raptor, weighing in at more than a kilo, and with a wingspan more than 2.5 times the length of its body.
Found throughout northern and inland Australia, the black-breasted buzzard is spread across the drier parts of the country, and most commonly occurs in open River Red Gum woodlands.
Victoria, the ACT, and Tasmania are too wet for their liking, so you won’t find them there.
These birds take family very seriously. They stick with their mate for life, and build the largest nests of any raptor species in the world. Their nests tend to be 70 to 120 cm wide and 40 to 55 cm deep, and will hold nestlings for up to 2 months.
Buzzard parents will frequently line their nest with fresh greenery, which is thought to help keep harmful bacteria and other pathogens at bay, while also stimulating the nestlings’ immune system.
But that’s not even close to the cleverest thing these large raptors do.
Black-breasted buzzards are famous for being terrestrial hunters, meaning they find a lot of their prey and food at ground level. They particularly like eggs, such as emu and brolga eggs, and are one of the few bird species in the world known to use rocks as tools to crack them open.
If you’ve ever seen the bird show at Taronga Zoo or the Territory Wildlife Park, you might have encountered one of their resident black-breasted buzzards going to town on a fake emu egg.
Here’s the aptly named ‘Slammer,’ showing off her skills at Taronga Zoo:
What’s so cool about this skill is that black-breasted buzzards instinctively know to do it.
As the Taronga Zoo keeper in this next video explains, the very first time you give a black-breasted buzzard a rock and a large egg, it will just naturally pick up the rock in its beak, and start slamming it into the egg.
The idea is to weaken the tough exterior just enough, so it can get its beak in and rip the shell apart, without leaking the contents all over the ground:
Tool use in birds is a very special indicator of intelligence, and using stones to crack eggs is quite a rare behaviour.
Another species known to do it is the Egyptian vulture – nicknamed Pharaoh’s chicken.
Here’s one putting in a pretty dismal performance and making Slammer look like an absolute pro: