Scottish Raptor Study Group

Monitoring and conserving Scotland's birds of prey




Honey-Buzzard

The honey-buzzard is a scarce passage migrant and very rare summer breeder to Scotland. As a trans-Saharan summer migrant to northern Europe, honey-buzzards are capable of occurring in Scotland in a large variety of habitats, from the remote islands to suburban areas in the Central belt. However, sightings of passage birds most usually occur along the east coast, particularly in Orkney and Shetland and usually from late May to the end of September.

Breeding habitat in Scotland is more easily defined. Extensive undisturbed woodland with mature stands, open glades, clear fell and rides are the main requirements. Woodland can be either broadleaf, conifer or a mixture of both. These forested locations occur in proximity to lowland agricultural areas as well as inland straths and glens, and often in close proximity to scrub heath and moorland. These are areas where insects tend to be most abundant. This is particularly important to honey-buzzards, which are largely insectivorous, predating the nests of social wasps and bumblebees and feeding their young on the larvae.

Records of this species in suitable breeding habitat are, understandably, subjected to a considerable amount of secrecy and suppression. However, a UK survey conducted in 2000 located 14 probable pairs in Scotland of which four were confirmed to breed. A sporadic nesting species since the mid 19th century, regular annual breeding has only been recorded since the mid 1970s. The breeding range in Scotland was initially centred on the Highlands. To begin with, only a few pairs were found but by the late 1980s and early 1990s a population of 10-15 pairs was thought to occur and regular breeding was occurring in Ross & Cromarty, Inverness, Badenoch & Strathspey, Moray & Nairn and Perth & Kinross. The number of occupied sites monitored in these areas has subsequently fallen as many of the former nesting woods in plantation forests have been felled, though some pairs may have moved to undiscovered locations nearby. More recently, breeding has been confirmed in Dumfries & Galloway and is possible in other regions where the honey-buzzard's specific habitat and prey requirements are met.

Breeding pairs return in the second half of May and a new stick nest is either built high in a forest tree or an old one is refurbished. Normally two eggs, occasionally 3, are laid in early June, and incubation lasts for a month. The young are in the nest for at least 6 weeks and fledge during August. After a few weeks they become independent and undertake a perilous migration to winter quarters in tropical Africa. Visit www.roydennis.org for the remarkable results from fitting satellite radio transmitters to birds near Inverness between 2001 and 2011.

Brian Etheridge

References:

Etheridge, B. (2007). European honey-buzzard. In Forrester, R.W., Andrews, I.J., McInerny, C.J., Murray, R.D., McGowan, R.Y., Zonfrillo, B., Betts, M.W., Jardine, D.C. and Grundy, D.S. (Eds.). The Birds of Scotland. The Scottish Ornithologistsí Club, Aberlady. Pp. 442-445.


Scottish RaptorsHoney-BuzzardRed KiteWhite-Tailed EagleMarsh Harrier
Hen HarrierGoshawkSparrowhawkCommon BuzzardGolden Eagle
OspreyKestrelMerlinHobbyPeregrine FalconBarn Owl
Tawny OwlLong-eared OwlShort-eared OwlRaven