Honey Buzzard

Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) a rare, breeding, summer migrant with specialised physical adaptations to cater for its unique diet

Honey Buzzard Evan Landy
Honey Buzzard © Evan Landy

The Honey Buzzard has dense scale-like feathers on the face and head to prevent it being stung by the bees and wasps it feeds on; it also has long, curved talons, to aid in digging up wasp nests in search of larvae.

A large bird of prey, similar in size to, or slightly larger than the Common Buzzard. The Honey Buzzard has a long tail and wings with three distinctive bars on the tail, dark bars on the underside of the wings and a dark carpal patch (at the slight bend of the forewing). The plumage is variable, from dark through to very pale, but generally adults are grey/brown on the upperparts with dark barring on the undersides. The head is small and held outstretched in flight giving an almost ‘cuckoo-like’ appearance. Juveniles are more difficult to identify bearing more resemblance to the Common Buzzard than the adults.

Length: 52-60cm; wingspan: 135-150cm

Status in UK
40 pairs (2009); AMBER listed; summer (breeding) visitor arrives mid-May; departs September; winters from southern Europe to sub-Saharan Africa

Population Trends
Always rare in the UK, the Honey Buzzard population is slowly increasing, although accurate figures are difficult to obtain due to the birds secretive nature and the unwillingness of birdwatchers to disclose nesting sites due to the risk from egg collectors. The increase may be linked to the maturing coniferous woodland in the UK.

Habitat and Distribution
Secretive, prefers open woodland glades and forest edges. Rarely seen away from nesting areas.

Honey Buzzards nest in southern England, East Anglia, northern England, Wales and Scotland.

Nests are built high up in trees within woodland, the nests are constructed of twigs and lined with fresh leaves. The initial breeding age of birds is unknown; there is one brood per year with 1-3 eggs being laid.

Wasps, bees and hornets are preferred; adults are taken in flight; adult wasps are followed back to nest sites where larvae are excavated using the Honey Buzzard’s powereful talons. Reptiles, frogs and young birds are also taken, especially if insects are in short supply.

Other Diurnal Birds of Prey