Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hawk or Buzzard?

This is as much a language post as a bit about certain birds of prey. And as language goes, part of it concerns “two countries separated by a common language.”

In the Facebook group “Scotland from the Roadside” members frequently post photos of birds of prey – Kestrels (Turmfalken), sparrowhawks (Sperber), golden eagles and white-tailed eagles (Steinadler und Seeadler), red kites (Rotmilane) and common buzzards (Mäusebussarde). Inevitably when a Scot posts a photo of a buzzard, the discussion begins.

Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Credit: Andrew Fuller

Scot: Buzzard on a post/in flight/sat in a tree.

Amer: That’s not a buzzard, it’s a hawk.

Scot: It’s a common buzzard.

Amer: I know what a buzzard looks like, and that beautiful bird is not a buzzard.

Scot: No really, it’s a buzzard. Buteo buteo.

Amer: Huh?

Harris hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)
Germans also call this a Wüstenbussard ("dessert buzzard")

In one discussion I’ll never forget, the American insisted he had spent his whole life around birds of prey, and the buzzard in the photo was definitely a hawk. In the end he looked it up and realized the truth of what I’m about to tell you, and ended with, “I surrender. Would you like my sword, Sir?”

That is the best capitulation I have ever read. Chapeau, my fellow American!

So who’s right??

It could be argued that they both are, but not equally so. The common buzzard is indeed a buzzard. Why do Americans get confused by this every time? Because Americans call vultures “buzzards.” For clarity, we need to look at the classifications of the birds in Latin.

This not a buzzard, it's a vulture.
Photo credit: M
Buteo = buzzard

Parabuteo = sort of a buzzard

Accipiter = hawk

Cathartes = vulture

Common buzzard = Buteo buteo = Mäusebussard (not native in the Americas)

Harris hawk = Parabuteo Unicinctus = Wüstenbussard (native only in the Americas, popular in European falconry)

Red-tailed hawk = Buteo jamaicensis = Rotschwanzbussard (most common "hawk" in the Americas)

Cooper’s hawk = Accipiter cooperil = Rundschwanzsperber ("round-tailed sparrowhawk")

"Turkey buzzard" = Cathartes aura = Truthahngeier


But don’t get distracted by the English names or the American common usage. We Americans call vultures buzzards, though they are not. Try it – google “turkey buzzard,” the one most Americans have heard of. Wikipedia will correct you and take you to the “turkey vulture” page. They are not buzzards, they are vultures.

Hawks and buzzards (in the European understanding) are both members of the Accipitridae family of raptors, which in German is "Habichtartige" (hawk-like). The genus is where they split into buzzards (Buteo) and hawks (Accipiter). The vultures native to the Americas - New World vultures, such as the turkey vulture - already split from other raptors at the classification level of order. They are raptors, but they are not buzzards, regardless of what they are commonly called.

(Kingdom - Phylum - Class - Order - Family - Genus - Species)

Frankly, the buteo buteo are beautiful birds regardless of what people call them. But since this comes up nearly every time an American hears or sees a European call this bird a "buzzard," I thought I'd throw some light onto this confusion.

By now each time I see on the Scotland group that a Scot has posted a photo of a beautiful common buzzard, I mention it to M, who, like Douglas Adams’ pot of petunias, says, “Oh no, not again.” 😊

Some of the other birds mentioned above:

Kestrel (falco tinnunculusTurmfalke)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus; Sperber) in our neighbor's tree

White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla; Seeadler), Isle of Mull

Red kite (Milvus milvus; Rotmilan)

Back to the wildlife photography I've seen in the Scotland Facebook group, do check out Andrew Fuller's portfolio of photos from the Outer Hebrides and elsewhere! Truly breathtaking.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Knock Knock

There was an informative article in this month’s state hunting magazine about how to handle a visit from the Waffenbehörde (weapon authorities). I’m blogging about this to show how differently gun ownership is handled in Germany. What’s it like in Wisconsin? There is no national gun registry and there are no laws about how to store guns as far as I know, so what I’m going to explain here will sound utterly foreign to American gun owners from the very first word.

The German gun law (
Waffengesetz, or WaffG) allows certified officials to show up unannounced at your door – if you own guns – and check that you are complying with the law and properly storing them. There is a national gun registry in Germany, so authorities know where the legally owned guns are or should be.

At the same time, this is Germany, and spontaneity is not really a thing here. It's unlikely anyone from the Waffenbehörde would waste their time going from gun-owner-door to gun-owner-door on the off chance the gun owners are home. Of course, a spontaneous check is more to the purpose. If we're ever subject to one of these, I'll update this post.

Despite my title for this blog post, the article emphasized that the officials who come for this purpose have zero sense of humor. While Americans think Germans lack that anyway, this is really not a time for any attempt at being funny or getting them to smile.

Parts of this law changed after one school shooting in Winnenden in 2009. One.

What if the gun owner is not home?

If the gun owner is unavailable, the appointment must be rescheduled. The spouse or children of the gun owner are not permitted to even know the combination to the safe or the location of the key, so if they allow the authorities access to the guns, the gun owner has already gone against regulations and could risk the confiscation of his gun license, hunting license and guns. This, for instance, is one change in the law since the school shooting, in which the shooter knew how to get to his father’s legally-owned guns.

Rescheduling the appointment will not damage the gun owner’s *Trustworthiness* (one of the requirements for gun ownership), but repeatedly doing so could.

Identity of controllers

Just as with any visit to your home of a uniformed person requesting entrance, the gun owner should first check the I.D. of the controllers. If there’s any doubt after checking their badges or I.D. cards, the gun owner should call the Waffenbehörde (weapons agency) before letting them in.

Satisfied that the controllers are who they say they are, the gun owner should show them to the gun safe by the most direct path possible. They have no business in any other room or location in the house and are not allowed to search any other place or objects other than the gun safe.

Checks are not allowed to be made on Sundays or holidays, or between the hours of 22:00 and 6:00.


What will the authorities check?

  1. the security grade of the gun safe
  2.  that all guns registered in the owner’s WBK (gun license) and the ammo are stored according to regulations
  3. that all guns are unloaded

It is legal in Germany for a hunter to borrow a gun from another hunter for up to a month without paperwork such as an Überlassungsvereinbarung. However, at the check if there is a gun in the safe that is not on the owner’s WBK and there is no paperwork, this will lead to questions and hassle. 

Proper storage of guns and ammunition

Depending on the type and number of guns and ammunition, these must be stored in a locked gun safe or case (the locked case is only for Luftgewehre or air guns). The gun safe, if purchased after July 6, 2017, must be a minimum of security grade 0. The guns must be completely unloaded, as in no ammo in the chamber or the magazine. 

The boxes of ammo may be stored in the safe with the guns as long as the safe is security grade 0 or 1.



Not only can the Waffenbehörde show up at your door unannounced to check that you are properly storing your guns, but they can also charge you for the experience. The federal law states that the fee has to be reasonable in regard to the tasks performed, but it does not state what the fee should be – that is determined by the county. In our county the charge is €50 + €5 per gun, with a maximum of €75.

And now for a little Aprilscherz fun, the article below appeared in the current April 1st edition of Wild und Hund. In an attempt to reformulate “Waidmannsheil” to be more inclusive to hunters of all genders, the Gender Commissioner of the federal government has released a statement that the traditional hunter's greeting and congratulatory salute should be “Waidmenschheil!” from now on.

I totally fell for it, but M thinks it's an April Fool's prank. I guess we'll see two things in the next issue:
  1. whether it was indeed a prank, and
  2. how many people's heads exploded when they read this.