European Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus)

European Honey Buzzard

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Pernis apivorus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] European Honey Buzzard | [FR] Bondree apivore | [DE] Wespenbussard | [ES] Halcon Abejero Europeo | [NL] Europese Wespendief


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Pernis apivorus EU west


Members of the genus Pernis are rather large kites – normally called Honey-Buzzards. They have long, broad buteonine wings and tails. The legs are short, but stout; with stout toes and talons. The lores are densely feathered with short imbricated feathers an adaptation to ward off wasps and bees whose larvae form an important part of their diet. The feathers of entire head are somewhat stiffened; with or without a projecting crest on nape. The tail is boldly barred. Their general colour is highly variable with dark phases in some forms. The young are usually more heavily streaked than are the adults. This distinct genus is associated with Henicopernis (Long-tailed and Black Honey-Buzzards), Aviceda (Cuckoo Falcons and Bazas) and Leptodon (Grey-headed Kite). It is found in Europe, through to Asia and the Pacific Rim; the more northerly forms being highly migratory. There are two major species – Pernis apivorus which, with its subspecies, covers most of the genus’ range, and Pernis celebensis which is specific to part of the Pacific rim.

Physical charateristics

Honey buzzards are similar in appearance to common buzzards but are distinguished by a dark, double bar near the base of the tail. They also have longer, narrower wings than the common buzzard and a longer neck, accentuating a pigeon-like head.
On the forehead and lores it has small, dense scale-like feathers to reduce the possibility of stings. Its nostrils are reduced to slits which are less likely to be blocked with soil and wax whilst digging. The head is small, which is more convenient for foraging in small spaces for nests and as a result the eyes are smaller – it does not need the visual acuity of a hunter. The beak is slender, the upper mandible slightly curved and terminating in a long point, which is well suited to holding insect prey.

Listen to the sound of European Honey Buzzard

[audio: Honey Buzzard.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 113 cm wingspan max.: 135 cm
size min.: 52 cm size max.: 59 cm
incubation min.: 30 days incubation max.: 35 days
fledging min.: 33 days fledging max.: 35 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


Eurasia : West. Breeds from south-west Europ to western Siberia. Breeds in most European countries except Island, Ireland. Does not breed in northern Scandinavia and in the south of Spain


European Honey Buzzard breeds in woodlands where it can find its preferred food. Forests may are deciduous or conifers woodlands, with clearings, meadows and thickets.


The species probably does not breed before 3 years old and younger birds stay in Africa during the summer. They build relatively small nests, often on the foundation of crow’s nests. They lay 3-5 eggs in June-July, which are incubated by both parents for 30-35 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge the nest after 40-44 days. After fledging the adults still provide prey for the young for a short time but one parent may already leave the breeding area and migrate to Africa while the young are still not fully independent.

Feeding habits

Despite what its name may suggest, the Honey Buzzard, does not eat honey. The diet of this bird is mainly wasps and secondly bumblebees. At the start of the breeding season they also take small birds, small mammals and earthworms to supplement their diet, and to ensure an adequate supply of food for a growing brood.

Video European Honey Buzzard


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Pernis apivorus is a widespread summer visitor to Europe, which constitutes >75% of
its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (>110,000 pairs),
and was stable between 1970-1990. Although there were declines in countries such
as Finland and Sweden during 1990-2000, key populations in Russia, Belarus and
France were stable, and the species remained stable overall.
This bird inhabits forests of a large part of Europe and western temperate Asia. It winters in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population of the European Union amounts to about 20000 breeding pairs and the total European population 130000 pairs. In some regions this species has declined, but elsewhere it has extended its distribution following the expansion of forest plantations. Globally its populations seem fairly stable
European Honey Buzzard status Least Concern


Migratory; almost entirely a summer visitor to Europe. Winters mainly wooded country in west and central regions of equatorial Africa, from Guinea and Liberia east to Central African Republic and Zaire; also in much smaller numbers in eastern and southern Africa as far as Natal and Angola. Departures from breeding grounds mainly mid-August to early September, with adults generally leaving by end August. Most gone from central Europe by late September to early October, though a few (probably juveniles) linger into late October or even November. Begins returning to central Europe from mid-April, though majority return in second half May, or late May to early June in north Europe.
Although relying mainly on soaring flight on migration, capable of sustained flapping flight over large water crossings; thus less restricted to narrow sea-crossings than other large raptors. Nevertheless, heavy concentrations occur at such points. Ringing recoveries indicate west European populations from as far east as Sweden and central Europe use Straits of Gibraltar route, where main autumn passage late August to mid-September; in spring, majority cross Straits late April to late May. Considerable numbers also cross central Mediterranean via Sicilian Channel; large numbers reported Malta, Sicily, and especially Cap Bon (Tunisia). Some east European populations concentrate on passage over Bosporus and Sea of Marmara; main movement mid-August to mid-September; limited spring observations indicate main passage in May. Migrants from western FSU not using Bosporus route pass around eastern end of Black Sea. Great majority passing through Middle East believed to enter or leave Africa via Sinai and Gulf of Suez. Abundant at Eilat (southern Israel) in spring; few in autumn.

Distribution map

European Honey Buzzard distribution range map


Title Migration and flight behaviour of Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus in Southern Israel observed by radar.
Author(s): Bruderer B., Blitzblau S. & Peter D.
Abstract: Observations on the schedule, volume and direction..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 82 (1): 111-122.

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