Comments on the Video

Juvenile Honey Buzzard, South Tyne, Northumberland, 24 September 2004

Location of video

Associated stills are held with video on identification pages.

The bird is banking quite steeply in its initial soaring so one wing is obviously raised at this point (as in an aeroplane). The wings are completely flat at some points in the soar, particularly later on (stills 9,10,15) and importantly there is never a kink at the elbow (still 2). Forsman's Figure 14 in his 1999 book does show a definite lift to the wingtip. Honey Buzzards have quite variable wing positioning at the very start of a soar (like this one), becoming flatter and more stable as they gain height. This one was just flying up into a moderate north westerly breeze, catching it above the trees, which was causing it to change its profile rapidly. There’s a nice bit of tail flexing, the bird using its tail as a rudder in classical kite fashion in the second circuit (stills 5,11) and once when first over the trees (still 1). The flapping at the start is out of focus but such deep flapping is associated with Honey Buzzard rather than Common Buzzard which has a narrower amplitude (unless it is carrying something).

This is a very young juvenile Honey Buzzard in that it is still in its natal area, perhaps only having fledged 2-3 weeks before. This means that structurally it is not that different from a Common Buzzard though in my view the head is small (stills 4,6,7,8), the secondaries do bulge (stills 3,13,14) and the tail is pretty long, almost as long as the wing width (stills 3,7,14).

It is easy to be sceptical about plumage details, mainly because of the difficulties with lighting in stills over woodland and grassland. Video seems to offer more opportunity here. If you run the video through Windows Movie Maker, you can look at the frames one after the other. I reckon that about 10 frames do show decent views of the plumage when the bird is banking and strong light comes onto the underside. This shows all the problems of stills -- underside features in view for only 1/3rd of a second (30 frames/second on film) in a 32 second clip, and that in two portions.

The view of the underside (stills 3,4) is extensive black on the tip coming well inside the fingers, very dark secondaries including the bases, dark solid carpal patch running into underwing coverts, dark body, pale midwing panel and strikingly pale base to hand. This is diagnostic for juvenile Honey Buzzard. Further some stills (3,5) appear to show a broad subterminal tail band and a band at the base of the tail.

Further comments from pseudonym ‘Recovering Scot’ on Bird Forum:

For what it's worth - I am familiar with Honey Buzzard from abroad and lived for many years surrounded by Common Buzzards in Wales my vote goes to Honey Buzzard.

Reasons: the head is too small in relation to wingspan for Common Buzzard (see especially at 00.18 sec), and in forty years of watching Common I have never seen one with a tail of that particular shape. The tail is clearly too long in the mid-tail feathers to be Common. Additionally as the bird swings round from behind the tree to fly left an two-inch-wide pale undertail bar about an inch from the tip is clearly visible with a dark terminal bar right to tip of tail (00.14). However the quality isn't too wonderful, but I'd not be unhappy to label this a Honey. I'm not bothered by the raised wings as the bird is clearly stabilising itself at that point. When the bird is later seen from the rear the profile is quite convincingly flat.

As for the flapping flight at the beginning, it looks wrong for Common Buzzard again to me. The wingbeats are far too deep and fast. Even when chasing each other at speed (which is usually fairly slo-mo) I have never seen Common Buzzards beat their wings that low. Since all the Honey Buzzards I have seen have been in hot countries though, I've rarely seen them flapping quite so fast either. In a British climate with less lift, this may mean very little.

See Bird Forum at thread 23909 for other viewpoints. Everybody is thanked for their comments.

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© Nick Rossiter 2005