Honey Buzzard

Scientific name: Pernis apivorus


Photo by Laurie Campbell

Honey buzzards  exhibit sexual dimorphism, which is unusual for large birds of prey.  The most obvious difference is the colour of the head:  grey in males and brown in females.  The upperparts of females are also darker than males, and the pale underparts are more obviously barred.  In both sexes the tail is barred, with a dark band at the top and two or three bands near the base.  Honey buzzards are slightly longer in length than common buzzards, particularly in the tail.

Habitat and Distribution

Honey buzzards are one of the most abundant birds of prey in Europe. The population is estimated to be around 160,000 pairs, the bulk of which are found in Russia.  They are forest dwellers and are highly secretive, moving between trees and rarely being seen within the wood.

Global distribution of the honey buzzard (IUCN 2011)


Honey Buzzards are unlike other large raptors in that they specialise in eating insects, with wasp and bee larvae making up a large part of their diet. They have adaptations that protect them from stings and help them deal with their prey: their legs and feet are heavily scaled and the feathers around the bill are dense and scale like. The bill is long and curved with an extended point suitable for holding insects, and their nostrils are reduced to long slits that are less likely to become blocked with soil or wax as they dig for wasp nests. They are not entirely dependent on insects; frogs, young birds and even some fruit are taken as alternative prey.


Honey buzzards are a migratory species, breeding in Europe and over-wintering in Asia and Africa.  They arrive at their breeding grounds in mid May and nest in woods.  They prefer deciduous trees and build nests made of twigs and lined with fresh leaves,  normally building a new nest each year.  The average number of eggs laid is two (range 1-3), and the 30-37 day incubation is shared by both parents.   Although the eggs are laid a few days apart, there is not normally any aggression between the siblings as food is usually plentiful.  Both adults forage and feed the chicks and after fledging, the young continue to be fed by the adults for about a month, sometimes less.  In September honey buzzards migrate from their breeding grounds in Europe and Asia to sub-saharan Africa and southern Asia, where they find adequate food supplies during the winter months.

Status and Threats

European honey buzzards are classified by the IUCN as ‘Least Concern’.  Scottish numbers have increased in recent years but many nest locations are still kept secret due to the threat from egg collectors.  They are strongly affected by disturbance to breeding areas and many are shot each year in the Mediterranean during their annual migration.

Within the UK honey buzzards are strictly protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.  They are also included on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern.  It is an offence to intentionally take, injure or kill a honey buzzard or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the breeding season.  Violation can result in a fine of up to £5000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.