Formerly considered to be very much an uncommon and secretive inhabitant of broad-leaved woodland in the south of Britain.
Research on the species over the last two decades has revealed pairs are more widespread nationally and will readily breed in a variety of habitats, such as large coniferous forest, shelter belts, farmland copses as well as the preferred mature deciduous woodland.
Honey Buzzard are no longer considered to be as shy and retiring as it was once thought. Occasionally nesting quite close to human habitation. It has also proved to be quite capable of coping with lengthy spells of inclement weather and breeding successfully.
The species is not really a Buzzard at all – it is closely related to Kites and is unique among British raptors in feeding principally on the larvae of bees and wasps. It has specially adapted scaly facial feathers which help protect it from stings as it digs out combs.
Honey Buzzards are summer visitors arriving here from late April to mid-May, after spending the winter in equatorial Africa and departing our shores from late August. Usually two chicks are raised and are fed mainly on reptiles until wasp and bee larvae become available.
Status & Range
Nationally the population is very small, estimated in 2000 at 51 pairs (BTO). The species holds “Amber” conservation status for this reason. Pairs do nest in such ostensibly unsuitable wet regions in Britain as Scotland and Wales. The excessive volumes of rain deposited in these climes one would think would reduce the availability of wasp/bee larvae nests significantly and effect breeding success adversely. However, such is apparently not the case therefore these birds must be far more resilient and resourceful than given credit for in the past!
At present only the North York Moors area is known to attract a few nesting pairs and non-breeders on a regular basis. The last recorded successful breeding was in 2010. Although more tolerant of people and disturbance than believed in the past, the species is habitually secretive in its activities when nesting, keeping a very low profile, except for a brief period of courtship and display. It is likely the odd nest or two will escape detection elsewhere in the NERF region in most years.
Egg collectors represent the most serious ever-present threat to nesting Honey Buzzards in Britain. As the species presents no risk to game birds, those gamekeepers who can differentiate between Honey and Common Buzzards are quite happy to tolerate the former! Migration to and from Africa has its own inherent dangers of course but at least British birds, which migrate across the Straits of Gibraltar avoid the slaughter of their European counterparts, running the gauntlet of passage across the central Mediterranean via Malta where significant numbers are shot each year in flagrant contravention of EU laws.