The European Honey-Buzzard, which is monotypic, is classified as a bird of prey and is one of six species of Honey-Buzzards from the family Accipitridae, which also includes Kites, Vultures, Harriers, Hawks and Eagles.
Although the European honey-buzzard is monotypic, it is also polymorphic, in that it has a wide variety of plumage patternation and colours and is not actually a true buzzard at all. The changes in plumage and appearance can vary with the bird’s age and sex as well as the season, although in general the underparts are barred and spotted, sometimes described as ‘tiger striped’ and in the adult male can vary from white to pale grey to brown. The head of the bird is relatively small compared to the rest of the body with a long neck and tail. The head of the adult male is predominantly grey, almost whitish on a juvenile, whilst that of the adult female is usually a darker brown colour. The upper and lower tail of adult birds is banded with three dark brown or blackish stripes, with that on the trailing edge being bolder and wider. Usually, the upper parts on adults are more of a mid brown hue with dark tipped primary and secondary flight feathers with the underparts and underwing areas being paler but with contrasting dark brown stripes and dark brown or black carpal patches. In flight, careful observation will reveal that the wings are angled towards the rear on the leading edge from the alula (bastard wing) to the tip of the primaries. The bill is small and slender, coloured black or dark grey with some pale yellow and the iris is a strikingly bold yellow in colour. The legs of both sexes are also yellow.
Portrait of European Honey Buzzard
A relatively silent bird, the European honey-buzzard confines itself to whistling noises similar to ‘pee – eee – aar’ or ‘pee – har’.
European Honey Buzzard in flight, from below
A diet of wasps, bees and hornets, together with grubs and larvae, honey, beeswax, insects and even small reptiles and mammals sustains the honey-buzzard. The bird will directly attack and forage from wasp and bee’s nests but also use its feet to search the ground and dig out grubs, beetles, termites and other larvae.
European Honey Buzzard feeding on prey
The European honey-buzzard’s breeding grounds are across the northern area of the Palearctic from Scandinavia across Russia to central Western Siberia and south through France, across eastern Europe to the Balkan States and into Iran. All birds migrate south for the winter to sub-Saharan and southern Africa.
European Honey Buzzard in flight from behind
During the northern hemisphere summer these birds choose hilly country with forests and woods in which to nest and roost. They are relatively shy birds and difficult to spot as they forage on the ground under the cover of trees. Whilst they may at first resemble the common buzzard, careful observation during flight, coupled with their physical appearance and bright yellow iris aids correct identification.
European Honey Buzzard perched on a branch
The breeding season lasts from May through to September, dependent upon geographical location, when nests constructed using twigs, sticks and tree foliage are built to form a platform located within the tree. One clutch of 1 – 3 buff coloured eggs with reddish brown markings is laid annually and incubated by both parents for up to thirty five days. Fledging occurs some forty to forty five days after hatching.
European Honey Buzzard nest with chicks
The average life expectancy of the European honey-buzzard is up to twenty five years.
Europe’s smallest eagle, the booted eagle, otherwise known as the Booted Hawk Eagle, prefers the warmer climes of southern Europe and south central Asia and whilst not threatened globally, its population within Europe is showing signs of decline.
A member of the sub-family of booted eagles due to its feather covered legs and named after the famous Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli, the species is considered endangered across Europe but secure elsewhere within its range.