Earlier Material for Honey Buzzard up to 2004
With some stills of Common Buzzard for comparison.
Where available a series of shots is shown for a pair or an individual. These show the very variable poses that a Honey Buzzard takes during its flight.
Notes on Photographs: It is important not to read too much into the plumage features shown on the underside of the wings. All field guides show sparkling clear undersides, mostly taken over deserts and rocky areas where there is considerable reflection of light upwards from the ground. Over woods and pastures the light is absorbed by the vegetation and the features of the underside are much less clear (Forsman 1999, p.17-19). Taking photographs against the light exacerbates the problem. Further the pictures shown have often been taken at considerable distance and the number of pixels for the original frame of the bird may be no more than 100x150 (including the grain on the slide). To attempt to show more features of the underside, the pictures have been lightened but the results of this are uncertain other than to show the carpal patch and the trailing edge. Some original shots (marked orig) are given below to illustrate the transformations made to obtain the photographs given earlier and the problems of interpreting computer-generated images. Note though that even these are simply ISO 200 slides scanned at medium dots per inch.
Notes on subjects: each line refers to just one or two birds taken during a particular flight, not to a series of birds taken over time. The still images do not do full justice to the birds. Obviously observations are built up over the period the bird is in flight and notes are taken on various features not always apparent in the photographs such as wing action, wing attitude and tail flexing. The video evidence shown on the videos pages as part of this work captures the jizz. The associated stills are consistent in features with the stills shown below.
In November 2007 the stills below were reviewed after more reliable information became available on feather lengths from Cieślak & Dul (2006). The significance of this information for Honey Buzzard identification is discussed at feathers. In the cases below where the wing is sufficiently spread, a comment is made on the relative lengths of P9 and P10. Essentially relatively long P9 and P10 support identification of the bird as a Honey Buzzard, which on average has P10 10% longer than that in Common Buzzard and P9 7% longer.
Northumberland, England 2004
Hexhamshire 1 May 2004, adult 1 2 3 4 5 6
This bird arrived back very early, in line with the early arrival of some Honey Buzzards this year. Picture 1 shows the long wingspan and long tail with narrow tail base and bulging outer tail. Picture 2 shows the bulging secondaries. Picture 3 shows the level wings in slow gliding. Picture 4 shows some gaps on the feathers with perhaps P1 missing on the bird's right wing and P4 on the left wing. The left wing looks as if it may be affected by damage to the feathers. However, the nick where P1 should be could be due to moult. The head is retracted in this picture. Picture 5 shows clearly the long thin neck and small head and the wings pushed well forward. The Honey Buzzard is being mobbed by a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. Honey Buzzards are often mobbed while floating over woods, more so than Common Buzzard Buteo buteo in my experience. Hobbies Falco subbuteo frequently mob them when they breed in the same wood. Picture 6 shows a classical silhouette with long thin tail, long thin neck, small head, carpal well-pushed forward and bulging secondaries. Pictures 2,4 show relatively long P9 and P10.
Hexhamshire 2 May 2004, adult 1 2
These pictures show fast gliding (careering) across the sky with outer wing held back, long tail streaming behind and thin neck protruding. Note similarity to picture 7 for Liège below. This bird showed no gaps in the feathers and so is different to the bird on 1st May. Indeed a pair of birds was present later in the day.
Note how slim and lightweight both these birds above appear. They will have just completed the spring migration with little feeding en route. Such birds can almost double in weight during the breeding season (see jizz).
South Tyne 27 May 2004, adult 1
This bird was up low over trees, prior to displaying with three other Honey Buzzards. A typical silhouette of a floating bird at low altitude with long thin tail, long thin neck, small head, lightweight body and ample wings pushed well forward. Picture shows relatively long P9 and P10.
Allen 12 June 2004, pair of adults: female 1 2 3 4 5 6 male 1 2
This pair were in display. Picture 1 shows the female as it starts to climb above the trees accompanied by a Rook Corvus frugilegus. This is a female as it is in wing moult. Honey Buzzards often look quite cumbersome at this stage of their flight. Picture 2 shows the bird as it climbs higher with the neck retracted during the soar. Pictures 3-6 show it in more active flight as part of the display. Picture 3 shows the tail is about 0.94 the wing width, hence very slightly shorter. Picture 4 shows a classical tail shape for Honey Buzzard with rounded corners at the end of the tail and a very slight notch in the middle of the end of the tail. Wear through the way the species digs on the ground means that the tail may become heavily abraded (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001, p.338) so it is not a constant feature. Picture 5 shows the small head, raised in level flight, and long thin tail, slightly bulging near the tip – the Cuckoo pose. Picture 6 shows the narrow tail base in a fairly acrobatic pose. The female is clearly moulting inner primaries. Picture 6 shows on the bird's lower wing the outer set P6-P10 intact, P4-P5 close together and intact, P3 intact, P2 missing and P1 growing. The bird has therefore shed the two old innermost primaries and is growing a new P1. The male appears very long-winged in Picture 1. Its tail is again slightly shorter (0.90) than the wing width. Picture 2 shows it in active flight with the carpals pushed very well forward and the small head protruding. This bird is, as expected, not in moult. Both these birds, after perhaps two to three weeks of feeding and recovering from migration, look significantly plumper than those in Hexhamshire in early May. Both birds were calling in flight (see above for recordings of flight calls) and gave wailing calls on return to their nest site. It is interesting that the first birds to display are often quiet with the first flight calls in display heard this year on 2nd June near New Galloway, Scotland. Pictures 5,6 show relatively long P9 and P10.
Liège, Belgium 12 August 2003
Liège 12 August, adult 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
orig 1 orig 2
Picture 10 shows a classic adult from the tail bands. Pictures 1-9 show the poses this bird took up prior to the close encounter. The birds gave disyllabic calls similar to those heard in Northumberland. Picture 6 shows the 'vulture-like' pose with broad wings pushed forward, small protruding head and rounded tail. Picture 7 shows the fast gliding flight as the bird careers across the sky. Picture 9 shows relatively long P9 and P10.
Baden Baden area, Black Forest, Germany 29 July - 2 August 2002
Baden Baden Station 29 July, probable adult female showing some juvenile features 1 2 3
Picture 1 shows slender body in relation to wing span, small head, wings pushed forward, prominent white patch on outer remiges, prominent dark secondary markings. Note similarity to two birds from Plate 23 in Forsman (1999). Some British experts think that Honey Buzzards do not push the wings forward. Yet at least 15 of the migrating flock shown in this plate have their wings pushed well forward. Picture 2 emphasises the long tail and slender body. Picture 3 shows the long neck. In the field this bird appeared to be an adult from its powerful flight. It is likely to be a female showing some juvenile features (Forsman (1999, plate 34); Forsman (1997, p.6)).
Staufen 1 August, two juveniles 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ; male 9 ; adult 10; juvenile Common Buzzard 8
orig 1 orig 2
Pictures 1-8 are of two very recently fledged juveniles. Picture 1 shows stalled appearance with wings slightly depressed and pressed forward. The wings are long in relation to the body and the tail is slender. The head is small and protruding, as for instance in picture 8 which also shows a fine bill. Pictures 2,5,6,7 show the long tail, slightly longer than the wing width. A comparison is made in picture 4 with a soaring bird from Forsman (plate 23, 1999) to show the similar pose. Pictures 5-7 show an oval carpal, a uniform body except for light seepage, three thick bars across the secondaries plus a broad dark trailing edge and relatively long P9 and P10. Pictures 5-7 also show a pale yellow bill and yellow cere, a combination unique to juvenile Honey Buzzard (Forsman (p.33, 1999)). The extensively dark fingers and number of bars (4) indicate a juvenile Honey Buzzard. The Collins Bird Guide (2001) says that adult Honey Buzzard have 2-3 bars across the secondaries, juvenile Honey Buzzard 4-5 and Common Buzzard c6. The tail does not show any obvious barring. If the tail is folded little light may be cast on this area. Picture 3 shows a long thin neck and small head. The two juveniles both took evasive action against a passing Goshawk Accipiter gentilis by moving on their sides and showing their talons. Goshawks are well-established predators of young Honey Buzzards. Picture 9 shows a male with moult on the innermost primaries and a gleaming pale head. Picture 10 shows another adult in the classical 'vulture-like' pose with wings pushed forward, small protruding head and relatively long P9 and P10. Picture 8 shows a juvenile Common Buzzard: the barring is thinner and the tail shorter than in the juvenile Honey Buzzards and the wing formula shows a relatively short P9 and P10. Absence of moult indicates age as juvenile.
In Northumberland it would be very unusual to find fledged juveniles so early in the season. In Holland it is much more likely as shown in studies by Bijlsma. In Germany the breeding season presumably also runs much earlier than in Northumberland.
Leisberg 2 August, juvenile 1 2
Picture 1 shows a typical juvenile with solid dark secondaries and black tips. Picture 2 shows long wings and tail. Wing formula is indecisive: P9 is indeed long, almost as long as P8 but P10 appears to be relatively short, falling short of P5.
Northumberland, England 1999
Allen 5 June 1999, adult, probable female 1
A classical adult structurally with long thin tail, narrow neck and small head and pushed-forward carpal. While the long tail is a reliable feature in the field, the head pose is more variable with some birds keeping the head and neck retracted. Birds tend to extend the neck in active forward flight and retract it in floating or soaring mode. This bird has a damaged right wing with at least one outer primary missing. It also appears to have started moult with an inner primary missing on its right wing and a step around P1 on its left wing. If it has started moult it is a female.
Allen 2 September 1999, juvenile 1
In straight-line flight this bird is another classic with long protruding neck and head and bulging secondaries. The dark secondaries and black extending inside the fingers indicate a juvenile. The tail length is about the same as the wing width. The head is held raised – another useful feature for identifying Honey Buzzards in active forward flight. The bird is not in moult completely ruling out a Common Buzzard adult. Picture shows relatively long P9 and P10.
Hexham 27 August 1999, juvenile 1 2
Picture 1 shows pale midwing panel between dark secondaries and oval carpal. Black extends inwards from finger tips. The bird shows a thin body, bulging secondaries and narrow tail base. Head and neck are retracted as is common in soar or float. Picture 2 shows a characteristic pose with S-shaped trailing edge (pinched in wings at base, bulging secondaries, fairly narrow hand). Long thin neck is shown here as bird peers around.
Hexham 4 September 1999 adult male 1 2 3
Same site as 27 August. This bird actually left during this series of shots, soaring to a great height and then decisively moving off to the south in flap-glide motion. Picture 1 shows a harrier- or kite-like pose with long tail and narrow wings. Picture 2 shows a thin body, long wings, long narrow tail and pale head. But then picture 3 (same bird, now in soaring mode) shows a much more Common Buzzard like profile with head and neck retracted and tail looking shorter as now fanned. The trailing edge though is still characteristically S-shaped and the wings are pushed well forward and held level.
Northumberland, England 2002-2003
Hexhamshire 12 May 2002, adult female 1 2 3 4 5
Picture 1 shows typical translucent primary base, thin neck, small head, tail length slightly greater than wing length and wings pressed forward. The moulted inner primary is earlier than Forsman indicates for Honey Buzzard (June, July) but the moult period is likely to vary considerably. Picture 2 shows the long wing span, small body and flexing tail. Picture 3 has been criticised as being Common Buzzard (no neck, short tail) but this is a common pose of Honey Buzzards as they stall while floating over an area (see Liège picture 6). Picture 4 is a typical Honey Buzzard profile with long wings and tail and the wings pressed well forward. This picture shows relatively long P9 and P10. Picture 5 shows further stalling with the obvious extended neck and small head. At least two birds in the migrating flock shown in plate 23 in Forsman (1999) show this stalling pose with primaries folded well back. A similar pose is shown by one showing shot damage (Birdwatch, April 2004, p.8).
Derwent area 29 August 2002, adult female 1 2 3
Classical Honey Buzzard soaring profile with wings pressed well forward and held almost flat, bulging secondaries, broad wing tip, narrow tail base and long tail, slightly fanned. This is the angle to photograph putative Honey Buzzards. All pictures show relatively long P9 and P10.
Allen 7 June 2003, pair displaying (calls above) 1 2 3 4 5
orig 1 orig 2
This pair were in full display giving butterfly action and many calls. Pose 1 shows long thin tail, bulging secondaries, broad wing end, wings pushed well forward. protruding neck and head, no moult and relatively long P9 and P10. The absence of moult is against Common Buzzard adult which should be into primary moult by now. Pose 2 shows one part of the display with wings flapped energetically. Pose 4 (presumed female) shows the extended narrow neck, small head and long thin tail. The tail in this bird is slightly less than the wing width. Pose 5 (presumed male) shows very pale outer remiges, narrow dark finger tips, oval carpal mark and limited secondary barring.
Hexhamshire 13 July 2003, male 1 2 3 4 5
Pose in picture 3 is classical Honey Buzzard with carpal pushed well forward, long protruding neck, small head and long tail (longer than wing width). See Liège picture 5. Pose in picture 1 shows the long tail with narrow base and pose in picture 2 shows a rather Common Buzzard appearance but note relatively long P9 and P10. Picture 4 shows the long thin tail and pale outer remiges. Picture 5 shows the typical almost flat wings of the species in flight. This bird shows no primary moult (picture 4). If this bird were an adult Common Buzzard it would now be well into moult (starts in April/May, Forsman). It is not a juvenile Common Buzzard as they are just about at the marching stage in Northumberland at this time. Calls are available above.
Hexhamshire 14 June 2003 1
Different site to that above. This bird shows the classical cuckoo-like flight with outstretched and raised neck and small head. The deep flaps have been captured here. Also note the long tail, the broad inner wing and much narrower outer wing.
Bywell 18 May 2003, passage migrant to west (female) 1 2
Typical Honey Buzzard power flight into the wind with long tail streaming behind, long wings relative to body size and protruding neck and head. The moult of this bird is slightly earlier than expected. See Liège pictures 1,2,7 for similar poses.
South Tyne 4 July 2003, adult 1 2
A female as moulting inner primary (P1 or P2) on each wing. In picture 1 this bird shows a protruding small head and long thin tail. Picture 2 shows the head raised in flight, a common pose in straight line flight.
Kidland Forest 17 August 2003, adult 1
This bird is the first noted in the Cheviots. Picture 1 shows the narrow tail base, long tail bulging near the tip, long thin neck and small head, bulging secondaries, pinched in base of wings, wings held well forward, overall a large wing span in relation to the body and relatively long P9 and P10.
South Tyne 23 August 2003, adult 1 2 3
Classical adult. Picture 1 shows typical slightly bulging long thin tail, long neck and small head. The trailing edge shows the S shape with bulging secondaries and pinched-in base. Pictures 2 and 3 show the long thin tail and level wings pushed forward. Pictures 1,3 show relatively long P9 and P10.
Allen 30 August 2003, juvenile 1 2 3
This juvenile may well have been making its maiden flight, accompanied by two adults. Pictures 1,2 shows that the outer primaries are still growing, indicating that this is a very young bird. Both wings show the same feature so the bird has not had an accident. The tail is about 85% of the wing width, so the tail feathers are also presumably still growing. In picture 1, the small head appears to be protruding well. Picture 3 shows a different profile as the bird, which was very hesitant and uncertain in the air, moved across the sky encouraged by the adults to stay in the air. The crop looks very full. Quite a number of juveniles from other studies (Holland, Scotland) top the 1,000g mark, hence significantly heavier than a typical Common Buzzard. The wing formula shows that that P9 and P10 are very long relative to the other outer primaries. Hence it may be that juveniles show relatively long outer primaries, even just after fledging.
Allen 3 September 2003, juvenile 1 2 3
Picture 1 shows a typical pose in a glide with wing tips depressed, long thin tail trailing behind, angular carpals and primaries swept well back. Picture 2 shows typical dark-phase juvenile plumage with extensive black tip to wings, a narrow but very conspicuous pale patch on the primaries, dark secondaries, dark long carpal patch and a narrow pale band between the carpal patch and the secondaries; the neck is narrow and the head is small. Picture 3 shows similar plumage detail but the bird is almost stalled now with wings pushed forward and tail fully fanned. This bird was accompanied by an adult female.
An interesting photograph and commentary for a juvenile Honey Buzzard can be found in the Devon Bird Report (2004, p.36, central photographic plates) where it is stated: that diagnostic underwing pattern includes the following: extensive darkish secondaries (forming a dark panel); and dark on the primaries (wing tips) is more extensive than on Common Buzzard and contrasts with the paler inner hand, which is smaller in area than on Common Buzzard. The juvenile in Devon was seen on 22 August in an area where a pair had been seen on 31 July and in display four times in August and the juvenile's presence was taken (rightly) as confirmation of breeding. A bird heading NW on 28 August at this site was the last record for the season.
South Tyne 3 September 2003, juvenile 1 2 3 4
Picture 1 shows the bird with typical curved trailing edge with bulging secondaries. The outer primaries are still growing on each wing with P9 and P10 very short still. Picture 2 shows the bird attempting to float; even at this age the birds seem to have a strong tendency towards effortless flight. The tail is only about 80% of the wing width. The secondaries in Honey Buzzard juveniles seem to grow faster than the other feathers, giving a broad-winged appearance with a shorter tail than in adults. Picture 3 shows that the tail feathers are still stubby and that the outer primaries have still to grow fully. The underwing plumage is typical for dark phase Honey Buzzard with extensive dark primary tips, dark underwing coverts and secondaries, a narrow but prominent pale area on the inside of the primaries and a pale line between the underwing coverts and the secondaries. The body appears to be very pale, perhaps emphasised by the light. The bird appears to be headless. It undoubtedly has a very full crop. Picture 4 shows the bird moving forward slowly. The wings are very broad and the tail relatively short. The small head is more obvious in this shot. This bird was accompanied by both of its parents. Picture 4 shows relatively long P9 and P10.
South Tyne 5 September 2003, juvenile 1 2 3 4 ; adult 1 2 3
Pale phase juvenile with pale uniform body, oval dark carpal patch, dark wing tips, dark secondaries and yellow bill (picture 1). Structurally this bird has a long tail, long thin wings, protruding narrow neck and small pointed head. Picture 4 shows a raised head in flight - the pale breast band is caused by light from the side. In the field the body was uniformly pale. Note the comparison in picture 4 with plates from Porter et al (plate 15, 1981) and Forsman (plate 20, 1999). The slightly raised small head with point at the front and long protruding neck and long thin tail are characteristic of Honey Buzzards. This is the site at which the calls above were recorded on 9 August 2003. Picture 4 shows relatively long P9 and P10.
The adult shows the obvious rakish body that some birds of this age show, which can lead to them being mistaken for harriers. The long tail, thin neck, small head and small body in relation to wing width can be clearly seen.
Derwent 9 September 2003, juvenile 1
Very typical dark phase juvenile with extensive dark wingtip, bold dark secondary panel and underwing coverts and striking but limited pale area on primaries. Tail is long, neck is thin and head is small.
South Tyne 21 September 2003, juvenile 1 2 3 4 5
One of 7 moving south this day from about 10:40-11:35. This movement coincided with a movement across Morecambe Bay with birds noted arriving in the Heysham area. Picture 1 (lightened) shows a dusky secondary area and dark primary tips with a small protruding head. Pictures 2 and 3 shows a more compact appearance as the bird soars. Picture 4 shows a classical Honey Buzzard profile with pointed head, narrow neck and thin tail base. The secondaries are bulging and the tail is about equal to the wing width. Picture 5 shows a classical thin neck and head. The calls of this bird may be found on the calls page. Pictures 2-5 show relatively long P9 and P10.
Perthshire, Scotland 31 May 2003
Dunkeld area 1 2 3 4
orig 1 orig 2
The similarity to Carrion Crow Corvus corone in some poses is not something usually pointed out in the field guides. The long neck, broad wings and long thin tail give the crow-like silhouette. The deep 'flappy' wing beats of Honey Buzzards also contribute to a crow-like appearance at times. Pictures 2-4 show relatively long P9 and P10.
Tampere, Finland 10 August 2002
Municipal Dump 1 2
Not my initial shout but spotted at last year's International Gull Meeting by an experienced local birdwatcher. These were the two photographs taken in Finland. The photographs posted here earlier referred to another encounter. Picture 2 was taken over the tip with slightly more under-lighting than over woodland. The right wing shows a thick band over the outer primaries. This band is less clear on the left wing. The tail shows a distinct subterminal band and at least one further band towards the base. This bird looked like a male in the field. It is very interesting that it is moulting an inner primary (P1 or P2) on each wing. Such moult in August excludes Common Buzzard of any age. Pictures 2 shows relatively long P9 and P10.
Other Species for Comparison
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo buteo
Eals, South Tyne 27 May 2004, adult 1 2
A compact bird. Picture 1 shows that it is in primary moult with P4-P10 old, P3 missing, P2 growing and P1 new. The length of the tail is about 80% of the wing width. The arm is long and the trailing edge is straight with no bulge in the secondaries. The body, neck and head are all very solid looking. The base of the tail is broad. Picture 2 emphasises the short tail. Picture 1 shows relatively short P9 and P10.
Kirkhaugh, South Tyne 12 September 2003, adult 1
Note heavier build with short wings in relation to body size. Neck is thick and tail is short at around 0.65 of wing width. The trailing edge is even in appearance with no bulging secondaries. This is an adult as it is in primary moult with P7 missing from each wing. The trailing edge shows a reasonably solid dark line, rather like in Honey Buzzards. Wing formula is indecisive with P10 shorter than P5 but P9 almost as long as P8.
Parson Shields, South Tyne, 27 November 2007, adult 1 2 3 4 5
The very compact appearance in these birds is obvious, with short tails (c75% of wing width), almost straight trailing edge to wings and short P10 (just short of P5). The birds appear heavy with very thick necks. Note three birds shown with pictures 1,2 referring to bird 1; 3,4 to bird 2 and 5 to bird 3.
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