Notes of John Hancock on Honey Buzzards in Northumberland in the 19th Century

Hancock, John: A Catalogue of the Birds of Northumberland and Durham Trans Nat Hist Northumb vol. 6 p.1-174 (1874).

Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus (at p.6-9)

This is a spring-and-autumn migrant. *

Mr. Selby confirms the Honey Buzzard to be one of the rarest of the Falconidae and records in his catalogue the occurrence of only two individuals. It is certainly now, according to my experience, one of the commonest larger birds of prey. Since 1831 and up to 1868, 25 specimens have come under my notice, all taken within the two counties.

It occasionally breeds in the district. In 1841, it bred at Newbiggin **, near Hexham. I obtained two of the young of this brood in August; they were shot whilst perched on the branch of the tree in which the nest was placed; their feathers were not fully grown, and it is evident that these birds could scarcely fly; they are in my collection. Young birds very much predominate and usually two or three are taken about the same time and near the same place, as if they belonged to the same brood. Out of 25 captures already alluded to, only three were ascertained to be mature birds.

This species arrives on our coast in May, and takes its departure in August, September and October; the old birds leaving the district first, the immature frequently not till the middle of October. I have in my possession a fine mature specimen that was picked up drowned on Whitley Sands, when I was on the beach, on the 27th of August 1835. I found one myself on the 22nd of September 1841, an immature bird, washed up on Blyth Sands. About a fortnight afterwards, the remains of another immature specimen were found on the beach, near Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. These birds had no doubt been attempting to leave the coast, but meeting probably with thick or stormy weather, had perished.

Hancock, John: NEWHM H377, MS Journal of the Birds of Northumberland and Durham (1874).

Compilation of records for catalogue above. Under Honey Buzzard:

Two of the buzzards I brought of Pape on 26th Aug 1841. They were shot off the tree on which the nest was placed at Newbiggin near Hexham by Mr John Atkinsons' coachman (Davidson) -- the old birds were frequently seen and several attempts were made to shoot them without effect -- This description was given me by Mr Geo Balmer on the 16th May 1844.

Honey Buzzard. 22nd Sept 1841. On Blyth Sands (when on a shooting expedition) a very fine young bird was found dead, not shot, caught in fog probably. Fortnight after a man Watson brought me the skeleton of another -- washed up at Newbiggin by the Sea -- from the feathers a young bird -- very probably from the same nest.

For many years past Honey Buzzards have been obtained in pairs both in the counties of Northumberland and Durham and generally they are young birds no doubt bred in the woods somewhere in the two counties. Last year 1863 two were killed (both young birds) and have in house ... one light, other dark (see above).

Hancock, John: Manuscript of the Birds Found near the Mouth of the Tyne (1844), Transcript of NEWHM: 1996 H.3171844

The Honey Buzzard (Falco apivorus Ray) is occasionally left by the sea on the beach in autumn. We possess 3 that were thus procured, none of which were in the slightest degree wounded by shot. It would therefore seem likely that they had perished by falling into the sea; And the first suggestion is that having passed from some distant shore, they had sunk from exhaustion before they could reach this coast. It is improbable however that birds which subsist, almost entirely on bees, should be migrating to England at a season when all the insect feeders are passing southward. The better explanation, perhaps, is that they had resided in this neighbourhood all summer, and had left the coast to visit Europe, or Africa; when having commenced their migration in unfavourable weather were over taken by a storm and so perished. That they remain with us, occasionally, during summer there can be no doubt. White in his pleasing history of Selborne mentions an instance, of a pair breeding in his district; and in Aug 1841 we obtained two young birds with "slob" feathers scarcely able to fly, that were taken in Northumberland or Durham.

Hancock, John: NEWHM H376, MS Collection of British Bird Labels

printed as Trans Nat Hist Soc Northumberland & Durham XIIII p.279-280. Index-Catalogue of the Birds in the Hancock Collection. R. Howse (1900).

Under Honey Buzzard:

Two young birds having just left nest -- Newbiggin near Hexham, 24th August 1841. See Trans Nat Hist Trust 6 p.6.

* Hancock (preface to volume) means by this a species that arrives with us in the spring, breeds and leaves in the autumn.

** In Hexhamshire: Letah Wood is adjacent to Newbiggin.

Honey Buzzard Home Page