Honey-buzzard in Ireland

The impression is that it is considered inconceivable that Ireland has a breeding population of Honey-buzzard. The species is considered as a scarce migrant but there is a distinct possibility that Scottish-bred juveniles could regularly drift to the W on their autumn migration, make the short sea crossing to Ireland and move down the E coast of Ireland towards Wexford. The birds then have a critical decision, to move SE to safety in SW England or Pembrokeshire in Wales, or to move SW to Cork and risk a very long sea crossing to SW England or Brittany in France.

The table below summarises observations made by NR from 2012-2016 in Ireland.

Area

Year

Month

Number birds

Number sites

Wexford

2012

November

1

1

Wexford

2013

November

1

1

Wexford

2014

November

1

1

Wexford

2016

May

0

0

Laois/

Kildare

2013

May

1

1

Laois/

Kildare

2016

May

6

4

Wicklow

2014

November

2

2

Cork

2012

November

0

0

Cork

2015

November

0

0

Cork

2016

May

0

0

Kerry

2016

May

0

0

Total -- distinct sites

12

8*

Area means roughly the land in a 40km radius of the named town or city. The overall totals are 8 sites including Laois/ Kildare 4; Wicklow 2; Wexford 2; Cork 0; Kerry 0.

These are very much opportunistic sightings in visits lasting one week each year.

The Honey-buzzard is historically rare in Ireland with the following records published by Roy Dennis in 2001 as a result of a query from satellite tracking birds to Ireland satellite-tracking/2001-3/:

Jim Fitzharris sent me the following official list of Irish sightings of Honey Buzzards between 1950 and 2000, which shows how rare the species is in Ireland.

1965: One, Abbeyleix (Laois), 9th July, shot reported in Ruttledge (1966); Adult male; Castle Caulfield (Tyrone), 15th April; shot; specimen in Ulster Museum. [2 specimens in all, both had been shot]

1972: One, Cape Clear (Cork), 23rd August.

1992: One, Ballinskelligs (Kerry), 27th May.

1994: One, near Moira (Antrim), 14th May.

2000: One, Cape Clear (Cork), 25th-26th September; One, St. John’s Point (Down), 30th September.”


Roy Dennis continues:


Through satellite tracking in 2001 the younger bird was followed crossed to Ireland and spent a month there before heading out into the Atlantic Ocean on 29th October. Again the radio stopped transmitting and we do not know whether it reached Spain or it died at sea. This data revealed the risks to late nesting honey buzzards, especially Northern Scottish birds. However, its appearance in Ireland caused much excitement amongst local birdwatchers, as buzzards are rarely seen there. “


Another juvenile Honey-buzzard came to grief in 2002, this one leaving South Wales and going out over the Atlantic Ocean in a strong adverse E wind; it was presumed drowned S of the Azores. satellite-tracking/2002-3/ :


Its male parent left on 5th September when the chick was still located in the nesting wood. On the 10th it roosted about 10km away but then returned to its natal site, until 15th September when it was located south of Inverness. At this time, the mornings were foggy but afternoons and evenings were sunny with clear skies under high pressure. The bird set off well but got blown off course into the seas of SW Ireland. Incredibly, the chick managed to keep going without hitting land and we hoped it might manage to reach Spain, but sadly it missed the Azores. By this stage it had flown constantly for at least three days without stopping or feeding, an amazing feat for a chick that had only just learned how to fly. Sadly, the exertion proved too much for it, and it must have drowned in the sea. We received no more signals after 8th October. Full details of the juvenile's flight are given at http://www.roydennis.org/o/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Juvenile-21250-2002.pdf


The Honey-buzzard status in Ireland given above is incomplete. In Birds in Ireland by Chris Hutchinson (1989) it is said that there were 22 records prior to 1966, of which all but 2 were single birds. The other records were of 2 together. Dated records were between early April and November with a preponderance in June. The only records between 1947 and 1965 were of 2 shot in 1965. Since 1965 [to 1989] there has been only one record, a single at Cape Clear, Cork, on 23 August 1972.

NR made a number of comments on the early results from the satellite-tracking from Inverness in 2001-2002:

Ireland may be an autumn trap for southward-bound broad-winged raptors. They follow the coast down to Cape Clear and then have a hopeless journey south of 800-900km to northern Spain. http://nickrossiter.org.uk/hbweb/inverness%202001.htm

Originally it looked as if the preference for eastern Britain by Honey Buzzards might be climatic. It may be though that it is a question of migration routes for juveniles: first-time passage birds in westerly areas are at a considerable disadvantage to those in eastern areas. It is a very interesting picture that the studies based in Inverness are showing in this respect. http://nickrossiter.org.uk/hbweb/inverness%202002.htm

The adult male used its experience to navigate decisively down the spine of Britain. Leaving Inverness on 5th September 2002, it reached Riding Mill in Northumberland on 8th, near Oxford on 10th and Normandy, France on 12th having apparently crossed the English Channel from the Isle of Wight or Dorset to the Cherbourg area, a distance of about 100km. It thus took about four days to travel the length of England and cross the Channel, making a journey of 600km. Weather conditions were reasonable except for the 9th so this was a fairly optimum movement. http://nickrossiter.org.uk/hbweb/inverness2002ad.htm

There are no breeding records of Honey-buzzard in Ireland. The status is given by the Irish Raptor Study Group (IRSG) in their 2018 report as:

Clamhán Riabhach, Honey Buzzard, Pernis apivorus


The Honey Buzzard breeds in most European countries, although it generally has a southerly distribution, being absent from northern Fennoscandia. Across much of its range, its distribution is rather patchy. In the UK, at the western extent of its range, Honey Buzzards can occur in high-quality mixed deciduous forests in the lowlands of southern England, central hill country with mixed farmland/woodland, and upland, even-aged coniferous plantations. Honey Buzzard are highly secretive and a specialist insectivore that feeds mostly on the larvae and pupae of wasps and bumblebees. When this food source is temporarily unavailable, it also eats other insects, pulli and occasionally small mammals and reptiles. The Honey Buzzard is a passage species in Ireland, arriving from Africa in May and leaves again in August or September.


There were only two noted sightings of Honey Buzzard in Ireland in 2018, notably in June at Dursey Island, Co. Cork (Clare Heardman & Dylan Hood) and in July at Dungiven, Co. Derry (David Steele).


No breeding records received.


As a migrant it is thought to be scarce but it is unclear how much effort is targeted at this species. Records do clearly extend into October and November. Another facet is looking at records in Wales, particularly Pembrokeshire; migrants there could be to/from Ireland. In the last 2 seasons, 2 were noted on BirdGuides, as well as 1 in Co Cork:


25/05/2019 18:10 Pembrokeshire : European Honey Buzzard, Wooltack Point one attempted to cross to island this morning but turned back (10:30)

13/06/2018 10:26 Pembrokeshire : European Honey Buzzard, Marloes probable flew over West Hook Farm towards Skomer (10:25)

04/06/2018 15:40 Cork : European Honey Buzzard, Dursey Island one by north cliffs on west side on Saturday [2/6] [as above in IRSG's report]

With earlier records and my comment “Much more action over Pembrokeshire than suspected over last 5 years 2009-2013: think the Irish population has been building up for a while, crossing the 70km from Pembrokeshire to Wexford with ease” (from BirdGuides):

12:53 18/05/13 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Tresinwen 12:18 one flew over high early afternoon

18:47 26/05/12 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Skomer one flew in from the west mobbed by gulls and continued towards the mainland today

21:59 23/05/12 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes St. David's one flew in off the sea this afternoon and flew towards St. Davids

12:16 19/04/11 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Ramsey Island one on the ground

11:31 22/05/10 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Skomer one over

18:53 25/09/09 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Dale one over Dale Airfield late morning

22:07 20/09/09 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Freshwater West flew through today

14:36 19/09/09 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes St. David's Head 11:15 one over late morning

21:15 13/08/09 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Strumble Head one over

22:24 07/08/09 Honey Buzzard Pembrokes Strumble Head one flew over

NR's Records


These have been compiled in the summaries for each season from 2013-2016 and from the NB for 2012. More information on each sighting is available at Details of NR's Honey-buzzard Sightings in Ireland.



2016


Ireland: Wexford/Cork/Kerry/Laois/Kildare/Dublin (9/5-16/5): 4 sites occupied in Laois/Kildare area 15/5: 1 pair up low-down over plantation, looking very frisky, in active engagement, just W of Portlaoise at Clonadacasey (Co Laois), 1 female up high mobbed by Corvids, mainly Jackdaw, just S of Portlaoise at Togher (Co Laois), 1 male in butterfly display just SE of Monasterevin (Co Kildare), 1 pair in full display E of Monasterevin at Mayfield (Co Kildare), total 3 male, 3 female.


2015


Ireland Cork/Wexford (7/11-14/11): juvenile foraging Rathmacknee, Co Wexford 12/11.


2014


Ireland Wicklow/Wexford (4/11-12/11): juvenile resting, Wicklow Bay N, Co Wicklow, 5/11; juvenile resting, Avoca, Co Wicklow, 6/11; juvenile resting, Rathmacknee, Co Wexford, 10/11


2013


Ireland (14/5-22/5): female in breeding habitat, Monasterevin, Co Kildare, 20/5


Ireland (1/11-8/11): juvenile resting, The Raven, Co Wexford, 7/11


2012


Ireland Cork/Wexford (4/11-9/11): juvenile foraging Wexford N Slob, Co Wexford 7/11.



Comments by NR: it was not unexpected that juvenile Honey-buzzard would be found down the eastern coast of SE Ireland (Leinster) in autumn though their presence in numbers as late as November was surprising. These birds are presumably late-bred juveniles from Scotland, readily crossing from the SW coast of Scotland to the E coast of Ulster. Ireland has a mild autumn and there were plenty of wasps each November, particularly seen on flowering ivy and at nests. So food remains plentiful for Honey-buzzard into at least the first half of November. There are also plenty of small fields with high hedges in coastal areas, particularly favoured by Honey-buzzard for ground-feeding.

Such juveniles have a difficult choice as to their route from Wexford: go SE for an easy 70km sea crossing to Pembrokeshire or SW towards Cape Clear, Co Cork, and a very hazardous sea crossing to Brittany or even northern Spain. From satellite tracking we know that the risky SW route is taken by some birds.

It did not occur to me until a visit to the Irish Midlands in 2013 that Honey-buzzard could actually be breeding there. The habitat is very suitable with extensive mixed woodland and rough pastures and the area is relatively far from the sea, thus having a less maritime climate and perhaps being a little warmer in the summer. The habitat around Monasterevin is particularly suitable and, in May, a female was seen in 2013 and a male in butterfly display flight in 2016. Also in May 2016 three further sites with breeding activity were noted, 2 in Laois to W and 1 at Mayfield, further to E in Co Kildare. The evidence is compelling that the Honey-buzzard has colonised the Irish Midlands. The breeding season in the Midlands would be expected to be earlier than in Scotland with juveniles leaving their natal area well before October. So it is still maintained that the Honey-buzzard juveniles in Leinster in November are from Scotland.

It is hoped that breeding will shortly be confirmed in the Irish Midlands by the IRSG and that more observers will pick-up the slow southward autumn migration along the E coast. In Scotland, particularly in the Tay Valley in Perthshire, NR found from 2000-2015 a total of c50 Honey-buzzard at 32 sites http://nickrossiter.org.uk/hbweb/scottishhb.htm. The findings in the central Scottish area were confirmed by Scottish fieldworkers in 2016 [Scottish Birds paper: KD Shaw, CJ McInerny, A Little, K Little, JS Nadin, R Goater, An exceptional season at a central Scotland Honey-buzzard study area, Scottish Birds 37(1) 3-13 (2017)] and particularly in 2017 [KD Shaw, CJ McInerny, A Little, K Little, JS Nadin, R Goater, An exceptional season at a central Scotland Honey-buzzard study area, Scottish Birds 37(1) 3-13 (2017)]. See http://nickrossiter.org.uk/hbweb/scottishhb.htm for summaries and analysis.

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