What is a Honey Buzzard?

R. Britton

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.

The honey buzzard is a large bird of prey that usually feeds on bee and wasp larvae.
The honey buzzard is a large bird of prey that usually feeds on bee and wasp larvae.

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.

A honey buzzard may eat frogs.
A honey buzzard may eat frogs.

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.

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