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What is a Honey Buzzard?

By R. Britton
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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A honey buzzard, Pernis apivorus, is a large bird of prey that measures up to 2 feet (60 cm) in length, with a wing span of 4.8 feet (1.5 m). The honey buzzard is particularly unusual, because its primary food source is wasp and bee larvae that the bird must consume in large quantities to sustain itself. This species will also eat insects, invertebrates, frogs, eggs, small birds and fruit if bee and wasp larvae become hard to find.

To reduce the risk of stings, the honey buzzard has thick scales on its legs, and short, dense feathers on its head near the bill. It is also equipped with a bill and talons that are capable of digging for ground wasp nests. The honey buzzard has a large territory, measuring up to 15 square miles (39 square km), which is necessary for this species to find the required amount of food.

Native to much of Europe, in cooler climates the honey buzzard migrates to Africa during the winter months before returning to its breeding grounds in late spring. The honey buzzard is incredibly rare in the United Kingdom, numbering no more than 69 birds as of 2010. This is due in large part to the illegal poaching of eggs by collectors. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the locations of known breeding sites are now kept secret in an attempt to protect the eggs from those who would steal them.

Deforestation, logging and recreational activities also pose a threat to the honey buzzard. Activity and noise near the nest can cause breeding pairs to abandon their nest, even when eggs or chicks are present. Modern agricultural practices, such as the extensive application of insecticide, results in a lack of available food and poses a threat to the continued survival of the honey buzzard, although they are not yet endangered across the rest of Europe.

Although similar in appearance to the common buzzard, for which it is often mistaken, the two species are not related and are in different scientific categories. The shy and reclusive honey buzzard breeds high in the forest canopy, hidden in secluded areas of both deciduous and coniferous forests. The female lays between one and three eggs, with three to five days between each egg; they will take up to five weeks to hatch. Both parents incubate the eggs and help to raise the chicks. Although the chicks begin to fledge around six weeks, they do not gain total independence until around 12 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Honey Buzzard and how does it differ from other raptors?

A Honey Buzzard, scientifically known as Pernis apivorus, is a bird of prey that specializes in feeding on the larvae of wasps and bees. Unlike other raptors that hunt for vertebrates, Honey Buzzards have adapted to this unique diet with a longer neck and specialized claws to dig into nests. Their sense of smell is also more developed to locate these hidden food sources.

Where can one typically find Honey Buzzards?

Honey Buzzards are migratory birds found across Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. They breed in woodlands and forests in temperate regions and migrate to tropical and subtropical areas for the winter. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), their migration patterns are extensive, covering thousands of kilometers annually.

What adaptations do Honey Buzzards have for their specialized diet?

Honey Buzzards have several unique adaptations for their diet of wasp and bee larvae. Their beak is hooked for tearing open nests, and their facial feathers protect against stings. Their long toes and claws are adept at extracting larvae, and their digestive system can handle the venom from stings, making them well-suited for this niche.

How do Honey Buzzards contribute to their ecosystem?

Honey Buzzards play a crucial role in controlling wasp and bee populations, which can become pests if left unchecked. By preying on these insects, they help maintain a balance in the ecosystem. Additionally, their migration patterns contribute to nutrient distribution and seed dispersal across vast geographical areas.

Are Honey Buzzards endangered or threatened?

As of the latest assessments, Honey Buzzards are listed as "Least Concern" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This status indicates that they are currently not at immediate risk of extinction. However, habitat loss and changes in climate could impact their populations, so conservation efforts remain important.

What is the breeding behavior of Honey Buzzards?

Honey Buzzards are solitary nesters, often choosing tall trees in dense forests to build their nests. The breeding season starts when they return to their breeding grounds in the spring. Females typically lay 1-3 eggs, and both parents are involved in raising the chicks. The young fledge after about 40 to 45 days, according to bird conservation organizations.

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