Unfortunately our plans for tracking honey buzzards, both adults and young, from the Highlands of Scotland, were put on hold this year because we were unable to find suitable nesting pairs. 2003 was a poor year for the species in our study area. Reports suggest it was also poor in some other studied populations in mainland Europe. In our case, we wondered if it might have been due to very dry conditions in April and May in the Highlands causing a scarcity of active frogs which are a favourite early food when the honey buzzards return from Africa.

We did find a new nest, with two young, but it was too late in the season to catch either an adult or the young, as the chicks were already branching out of the nest on the day we visited the tree. The nest had two young, and we watched an adult bringing food to the nest on several occasions. Two young flew and our local contacts tell us that the last young was thought to emigrate on 19th September.

Although our plans have centred on studying honey buzzards in the Highlands on Forestry Commission land, we had identified that it would be important to compare the migrations of young from a nest in England with our North Scottish birds.  We were very pleased that the group who study honey buzzards in SE England offered us the opportunity to satellite track two young from a nest they knew. We are grateful to English Nature and the British Trust for Ornithology for permission to fit the transmitters. I was taken to a nest site on 16th August and fitted the radios. The group reported that the young were flying on 22nd August and remained in the nest area into September.


English Chick E21251


This was the larger, pale-headed chick and had been ringed GP28865 and given satellite radio no. 21251.  It was in very good condition with a wing length of 303mms.

Annual Movements

The chick stayed within 10km of the nest for two weeks, and then moved to nearby locations for a further two weeks before migrating.   It had therefore been flying for about 33 days when in started its autumn migration on 23rd September.  It made fast progress into France and through Spain and crossed over into Africa on the 4th or 5th October.  Unfortunately the radio stopped transmitting soon after and the last we knew was that the bird was crossing the Mauritanian portion of the Sahara Desert.  However, we know that the chick successfully migrated through Africa as it was found four years later in Northern France.  Sadly, the bird had died but had clearly completed three successful migrations and may even have started breeding.

To view further details of chick E21251’s movements click here:     Chick E21251 2003


Reproductive History

Chick 28865 did not reach breeding age during our studies.


English Chick E28661


This was the smaller chick and had been ringed GP28864 and fitted with satellite transmitter no. 28661.  This was a dark coloured chick in very good condition with a wing length of 293mm.

Annual Movements

It started its migration on 23rd September, exactly the same day as it sibling, as a cold front came down from the north when there was snow in Scotland and frosts in parts of England.  It headed through France and by 29th September had overtaken its older sibling, by taking a more eastern and higher route over the mountains.  The bird headed through Spain and crossed over into Africa on 5th October.  It headed through Algeria and by 15th October had crossed the Sahara Desert.  It  then passed through Mali and into Guinea on the 22nd October.  It  remained there, in the headwaters of the River Niger for a month.  By mid December the bird had reached the Liberian border, and then remained in dense coastal forest within Liberia until February 2004.  The battery then ran down and we didn’t receive any more signals after 4th February.

To read more details about Chick E28661’s movements click here:    Chick E28661 2003


 Reproductive History

Chick 28661 did not reach  breeding age during our studies.



Both of these young honey buzzards showed interesting differences from the Scottish chicks of the last two years. Both birds headed in an east of south direction, which got them very quickly into France, quite unlike the south-westerly initial heading of the northern chicks. This was one of the interesting aspects which we wanted to research, as we thought that there might be a difference in the initial migration headings, if the birds in England are of a different origin than those in northern Scotland. These chicks also spent more time living in the region where they were reared before migrating. The approach of cold weather encouraged both young to migrate on the same day, despite being well separated.