Honey-buzzard

Pernis apivorus

52-60cm

Appearance

This bird has a slightly longer tail than the Buzzard and a small head similar to a pigeon's. The plumage varies in darkness, the tail is banded on the tip and near the base, and lighter-coloured birds have a dark patch where the wing bends. Barring is quite obvious on the underwing. The eye is yellow and the bill is quite narrow. There are some small differences in between the sexes. The male's head is grey, his upperparts are brownish, he is pale underneath, and his tail is grey and barred. The female is a darker brown and the barring on her body is more distinct. The plumage of the juvenile bird also varies in darkness, but its forehead is usually white with a dark eye-patch, the tips of its wings are dark, and its tail has several subtle bars.

Habitat

Can be found nesting in southern and eastern England, Wales, northern England and northern Scotland, usually in conifers. Lives in relatively untouched woodland, forests and copses.

Character

This bird is known for invading the nests of wasps and bees in order to eat the insects and their larvae; its scaly head feathers provide protection for this activity. When flying, there are some ways to separate this bird from the Buzzard; its wings are flat or a little downcurved, and its wingbeats are deep and bouncy. Males have an oscillating 'dance' they perform when displaying or making their territory known; the wings go above the body. A timid bird that is usually solitary except when in migratory flocks; feeds on the ground more regularly than other birds of prey.

Food

Feeds on insects and their larvae, particularly the wasps and bees that it digs up with its claws. Diet also includes lizards, frogs, some mammals and birds.

Breeding

Nesting usually begins in late May; nests are usually up large trees, sometimes using the abandoned nests of other birds as a base. Female lays 2 eggs and both adults incubate for 30-35 days. Female begins by doing most of the brooding while male hunts, then the parents share the hunting after 18 days. Young can fly after approximately 42 days, but independence takes 75-100 days.

Population

This bird visits in the summer and winters in Africa. Approximately 40 pairs nest in Britain each year; there are usually around 100 other sightings of migrant Honey-buzzards.

Observation Tips

When there are easterly winds in autumn there can be a steady passing of birds through the region. The east coast of England is the best place to see the birds in flight; to see the birds on the ground or in trees is quite rare.

Voice

Usually quiet, but can make a high-pitched 'pi-aa' when breeding.
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