European Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorusare amongst the mostbeautiful of raptors and they are great travellers
This species breeds in the western and central Palaearctic and is replaced further east by the Oriental Honey Buzzard P. ptilyorhynchus.
There is a third species, the ancestral form, which lives across many islands of south-east Asia - in Sulawesi and the Philippines - where the Oriental Honey Buzzard's range, which has populations across South and South East Asia, ends. It is the Barred Honey Buzzard P. celebensis. These tropical Honey Buzzards are sedentary but the Palaearctic populations of Oriental and all European Honey Buzzards migrate. Their specialised diet of bees and their larvae prevents them being resident away from the tropics.
Hundreds of thousands of European Honey Buzzards arrive in Europe and western Asia to breed in late April and May. They have a short breeding season, capitalising on the abundance of their favourite prey, and leave as soon as breeding is over. They cross the major flyways, avoiding long sea crossings, but are better able to cope with flying over the sea than most raptors and they even get across into Africa via Malta.
Even so flying over the sea can be hazardous.
The Honey Buzzards that are now peaking over the Strait of Gibraltar, with numbers exceeding 11 thousand on good days, are coming from western Europe, Scandinavia and western Russia. Many have crossed from Scandinavia into continental Europe at Falsterbo and the journey to Gibraltar takes them about a week.
These birds are heading for the forests of tropical West Africa, so they still have the big hurdle of the Sahara Desert - 1500 kilometres of sand without chance of eating or drinking - before arriving home.
The Honey Buzzard is typified by a variable plumage. Most birds are of the typically barred phase (above) but others are chocolate brown (below).
and others white (below).
I will keep an eye out for these migrants in the next few days and report back on their progress, along with that of other raptors...
thermal of Honey Buzzards on the move (above). These flocks may number in the thousands.