Buzzard Buteo buteo, Buse variable.

4 occurrences (3 buzzard, 1 buzzards)

Once fairly common and widespread, the buzzard probably benefited from the early and incomplete forest clearances. However, by the mid fifteenth century it was listed as vermin, taking domestic poultry and the then-protected rabbit.

The buzzard, along with the kite, went often by the derogatory name of "puttock" (see KITE). About it SEAGER quotes Hortus Sanitatis (1490-1517 chap. 17):

The Buzzard is of the class of Hawks; but somewhat darker, and very sluggish in flight; yet it lives on prey, which it is able to catch by cunning, or when it is let by some sickness or slowness. This bird is very sweet in taste.

The last remarks throws an interesting light on the culinary habits of the period and the relationship people shared with nature.

Shakespeare uses the vocabulary associated with this species which is clearly unsuited for the purpose of falconry for a maximum dramatic effect:

More pity that the eagles should be mew'd,

While kites and buzzards prey at liberty.

(R3 1 1 133)

Even if we have no proof of eagles being trained for falconry, the hierarchy is established between noble birds (eagles = Hastings + Clarence) and base ones (kites + buzzards = Richard + Buckingham, etc) within a context of falconry with "mew'd" meaning encaged, imprisoned echoing what Richard said in his introductory monologue: "This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up" (R3 1 1 38).

On a lighter mode Shakespeare uses also the buzzard in The Taming of The Shrew, this time because it enables him to introduce gradually his metaphor on falconry that is pivotal to the play (see HAWKS and FALCONS and SHR 4 1 175-198):


Too light for such a swain as you to catch,

And yet as heavy as my weight should be.


Should be? Should - buzz.


Well ta'en, and like a buzzard.


O slow-wing'd turtle, shall a buzzard take thee?


Ay, for a turtle, as he takes a buzzard.


Come, come, you wasp, i'faith, you are too angry.


If I be waspish, best beware my sting.


My remedy is then to pluck it out.

(2 1 204-211)

The buzzard was the most interesting of the "puttocks" as Shakespeare saw the possibility of making a multiple quibble: starting from the actual sound of the words and a pun on be/bee/buzz in the senses of the buzz of a bee - see "wasp" in line 209 - and a busy rumour, or scandal. Then from a buzzard - bird of prey that could take a turtledove, we move to the other meaning of buzzard that is "[insects] that fly by night, e.g. large moths and cockchafers" (OED), a meaning also taken up by "wasp". This is a good example of the intricate pattern of Shakespeare's elaborate metaphors drawing from various sources of the natural world.