European honey buzzard

European honey buzzard
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Pernis
Species: P. apivorus
Binomial name
Pernis apivorus
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Range of P. apivorus      Breeding/Summer range     Wintering range

Eurasian honey-buzzard
Western honey-buzzard

Egg of Pernis apivorus
European honey buzzard

The European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus), also known as the pern or common pern,[2] is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae.


Despite its English name, this species is more closely related to kites of the genera Leptodon and Chondrohierax than to true buzzards in Buteo.

The binomen is due to Linné. It is derived from Ancient Greek pernes περνης, a term used by Aristotle for a bird of prey, and Latin apivorus "bee-eating", from apis, "bee" and -vorus, "-eating".[3] In fact, bees are much less important than wasps in the bird's diet.


The 52–60-centimetre-long (20–24 in) honey buzzard is larger and longer winged, with a 135–150-centimetre (53–59 in) wingspan, when compared to the smaller common buzzard (Buteo buteo). It appears longer necked with a small head, and soars on flat wings. It has a longer tail, which has fewer bars than the Buteo buzzard, usually with two narrow dark bars and a broad dark sub-terminal bar. The sexes can be distinguished on plumage, which is unusual for a large bird of prey. The male has a blue-grey head, while the female's head is brown. The female is slightly larger and darker than the male.

The soaring jizz is quite diagnostic; the wings are held straight with the wing tips horizontal or sometimes slightly pointed down. The head protrudes forwards with a slight kink downwards and sometimes a very angular chest can be seen, similar to a sparrowhawk, although this may not be diagnostic. The angular chest is most pronounced when seen in direct flight with tail narrowed. The call is a clear peee-lu.

Distribution and habitat

The European honey buzzard is a summer migrant to most of Europe and western Asia, wintering in tropical Africa. It is seen in a wide range of habitats, but generally prefers woodland and exotic plantations.


Being a long distance migrant, the honey buzzard relies on magnetic orientation to find its way south, as well as a visual memory of remarkable geographical features such as mountain ranges and rivers, along the way. It avoids large expanses of water over which it cannot soar. Accordingly, great numbers of honey buzzards can be seen crossing the Mediterranean sea over its narrowest stretches, such as the Gibraltar Strait, the Messina Strait, the Bosphorus, or in Israel.[4][5]

Status in Britain

The bird is an uncommon breeder in, and a scarce though increasing migrant to, Britain. Its most well-known summer population is in the New Forest (Hampshire) but it is also found in the Tyne Valley (Northumberland), Wareham Forest (Dorset), Swanton Novers Great Wood (Norfolk), the Neath Valleys (South Wales), the Clumber Park area (Nottinghamshire), near Wykeham Forest (North Yorkshire), Haldon Forest Park (Devon) and elsewhere.


It has been suggested that the similarity in plumage between juvenile European honey buzzard and common buzzard has arisen as a partial protection against predation by northern goshawks. Although that formidable predator is capable of killing both species, it is likely to be more cautious about attacking the better protected Buteo species, with its stronger bill and talons. Similar Batesian mimicry is shown by the Asian Pernis species, which resemble the Spizaetus hawk-eagles.[6]


It is sometimes seen soaring in thermals. When flying in wooded vegetation, honey buzzards usually fly quite low and perch in mid canopy, holding the body relatively horizontal with tail drooping. The birds also hop from branch to branch, each time flapping their wings once, and so emitting a loud clap. The bird often appears restless with much ruffling of the wings and shifting around on its perch. The honey buzzard often inspects possible locations of food from its perch, cocking its head this way and that to get a good look at possible food locations. This behaviour is reminiscent of an inquisitive parrot.


The honey buzzard breeds in woodland, and is inconspicuous except in the spring, when the mating display includes wing-clapping. Breeding males are fiercely territorial.


It is a specialist feeder, living mainly on the larvae and nests of wasps and hornets, although it will take small mammals, reptiles and birds. It is the only known predator of the Asian giant hornet. It will spend large amounts of time on the forest floor excavating wasp nests. It is equipped with long toes and claws adapted to raking and digging, as well as scale-like feathering on its head, thought to be a defence against the stings of its victims.[7] It is thought that honey buzzards have a chemical deterrent in their feathers that protects them from wasp attack .


  1. BirdLife International (2013). "Pernis apivorus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. Georges Cuvier, Edward Blyth, Robert Mudie, George Johnston, John Obadiah Westwood, William Benjamin Carpenter, The Animal Kingdom: Arranged After Its Organization, Forming a Natural History of Animals, and an Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, 1851, p. 171
  3. Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 51, 298. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. Garcia, Ernest F.J.; Bensusan, Keith J. (November 2006). "Northbound migrant raptors in June and July at the Strait of Gibraltar" (PDF). British Birds. 99: 569–575.
  5. Zalles, Jorje I.; Bildstein, Keith L. (2000). Birdlife International, ed. Raptor watch: a global directory of raptor migration sites.
  6. Duff, Daniel (March 2006). "Has the juvenile plumage of Honey-buzzard evolved to mimic that of Common Buzzard?" (PDF). British Birds. 99: 118–128.
  7. Cocker, Mark; Mabey, Richard (2005). Birds Britannica. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0-7011-6907-9.
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