Honey-buzzard in Devon

The Devon population appears to be poorly known. There has been one well documented site but observations made by NR from 2006-2011 suggest the Honey-buzzard may have become better established in the area around Exeter than generally realized.

Area

Year

Month

Number birds

Number sites

Exeter

2006

June

3

2

Exeter

2006

July

3

2

Exeter

2007

June

1

1

Exeter

2007

August

1

1

Exeter

2008

July/August

5

3

Exeter

2009

July

3

3

Exeter

2010

May/June

3

3

Exeter

2010

July

2

1

Exeter

2010

September

3

2

Exeter

2011

May

2

2

Total -- distinct sites

 

 

12

6

 

Area means roughly the land in a 40km radius of the named town or city.

These are very much opportunistic sightings in visits lasting up to one week at a time. It would be interesting to see more comprehensive figures if these are available.

To my eye much of the heathland around Exeter, both to the south west and to the east, is very suitable for breeding Honey-buzzard. Because of the time consuming nature of surveying the birds, particularly in July, only a fraction of the suitable habitat was covered in 2006. New sites were sought in 2007, rather than consolidating on the known sites. From 2008-2009 in the short time available, known sites were re-visited. In 2010 for personal reasons more visits were made throughout the breeding season from May-September. One successful site appeared to be occupied throughout the season. A population of over ten pairs in this area would not be surprising.

In the Devon Bird Report 2006 (Honey-Buzzard p.56) it is noted that many attributions for Haldon birds as immatures, second-years or sub-adults are considered unreliable, as Forsman (1998) feels that young birds remain in Africa until their third-calendar year. The Devon attributions, while not right though, remain interesting: they suggest that the incidence of adult females, with juvenile plumage features, is higher than realised.

Multimedia for Honey-buzzard in Devon:

25 May 2011 male up on edge of Dartmoor, holding territory, hanging and hovering in the wind in fine weather, with one dive (video reference 2011-818).

Video 1, complete with back-chat with sister which does show some of the id process, with derived stills 1  2  3  4  5  6.


30 July 2010, pair adult Honey-buzzard in territory at site near Exe, in contention with Common Buzzard who have recently fledged young in area (video reference 2010-670).

Video 1 shows the female honey-buzzard floating with derived close-up stills 1  2  3   7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14; 1-3 show 3 thick bars on right and left wings, 9-10 show the female in distinctive gliding mode with pointed head and long narrow tail and 7-8 show the long flexible neck when the head is turned. Broad barring across the inner primaries is shown on still 11. Video 2 shows the female Honey-buzzard in close up aggravation with a Common Buzzard in heavy moult, with derived stills 1  2  3  4  5; the stills show the Honey-buzzard likes to keep above Common Buzzard and there's a few verbal exchanges and talon waving but no actual contact. Video 3 shows further tension at an increased level with derived stills 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9. Still 1 shows the alula (bastard wing) raised as the bird increases lift without stalling. Video 4 shows the male Honey-buzzard drifting out to hunt with derived stills 1  2  3; he's left the female to do the nest defence. Video 5 (670) shows the female Honey-buzzard floating around the site, accompanied by an adult Common Buzzard for some of the time. The calls are all Common Buzzard, angry at presence of Honey-buzzard, which seems to be quite unflappable! Many derived stills for this long video (7 minutes): 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28. Stills 2-5 show the bird stalled in a vulture-type pose with alula pushed out on 3-5; 6-10 show the Honey-buzzard in direct comparison with the Common Buzzard, latter showing narrower wings of more uniform width and of course looking much scruffier with its moult; 11-14 show typical silhouette for female with small head, long neck and long tail with rounded corners; 15 shows twisting of long neck; 2, 16-18 show broad barring across secondaries.

For further comparison Common Buzzard adults in moult are shown on this clip from the same visit. The Common Buzzard on this further clip is interesting: it has a long tail and think it's a first-summer bird in moult. The jizz is right for Common Buzzard with very erratic flight control, stiff wing beats and raised wings. Derived stills include 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15. Stills 1-2 in particular show fine barring, typical of Common Buzzard, with perhaps 5 bars visible on primaries and up to 10 bars on tail. The fineness of the bars is probably a better measure than the count of the bars as the number counted depends on wear of feathers and particularly of the coverts.


Nick Rossiter 2007-2012

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