Oriental honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus)

Also known as: crested honey-buzzard, Eastern honey-buzzard
GenusPernis (1)
SizeLength: 55 - 65 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

Despite superficially resembling a buzzard (Buteo sp.), the Oriental honey-buzzard, like the European honey-buzzard, is actually a large but slender species of kite. The colour and pattern of its plumage varies extraordinarily across its range with six subspecies differing markedly in appearance (4). All the subspecies are generally greyish-brown above and have a grey head, but the colour of the under body ranges from cream to blackish-brown and tends to be either blotched, mottled or streaked (2) (4) (5). Furthermore, the length of the hindcrown feathers varies considerably with some subspecies having a distinct crest. Extraordinarily, the distinct plumage of each subspecies closely resembles that of a species of hawk-eagle that overlaps its range. It is argued that this mimicry evolved to prevent the relatively weak honey-buzzard from being attacked by more powerful raptors (4).

A vital attribute shared by all honey-buzzards are scale-like feathers around the eyes and forehead which provide armour against the stings of the wasps, bees and hornets it preys upon. In addition, all have feet equipped with relatively straight claws adapted for digging and walking (4).

The distribution of the Oriental honey-buzzard is split into two distinct populations, a northern one which is migratory and comprises the subspecies Pernis ptilorhyncus orientalis, and a southern one which is mostly sedentary and comprises the other five subspecies: P. p. ruficollis, P. p. torquatus, P. p. ptilorhyncus, P. p. palawanensis and P. p. philippensis. The northern population breeds during the summer from southern Siberia down to northeast China, North Korea and Japan, but migrates down through the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia over winter. The sedentary southern population occurs from north Pakistan down through Southeast Asia as far south as Java in Indonesia. Within the southern population the ranges of the five subspecies vary geographically (4).

In the northern parts of its range the Oriental honey buzzard is typically found in broadleaf and mixed forest, whilst in tropical areas further south it is found in rainforest, open woodland and even small groves near human habitation (4).

In common with the European honey-buzzard, the Oriental honey-buzzard feeds predominately on the combs, larvae, pupae and adults of social bees, wasps and hornets, but will also take other insects, reptiles, frogs, small mammals, and young or injured birds (4) (6). It is normally a solitary and secretive bird, but sometimes aggregates in small flocks when migrating or moving locally in response to food supplies (4) (5). Breeding occurs during the summer in close association with fluctuations in the abundance of food (4). During courtship, aerial displays are common and typically involve solitary and mutual circling, and distinctive undulating rollercoaster-like flight. The nests measure up to 80 centimetres across and are usually made from twigs and leaves, and positioned at heights of 6 to 28 metres in a tree (4) (6). The female lays, on average, two eggs, which are incubated for between 28 and 35 days. After hatching both the male and female participate in feeding the young (6), which fledge after around five to six weeks and become independent after another five to eight weeks (4).

The global population of Oriental honey-buzzard, estimated to be between 100,000 and 1,000,000 individuals, is not thought to be under significant threat. Consequently the Oriental honey buzzard is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List (1) (7).

There are no known conservation measures in place for the Oriental honey-buzzard but organisations such as the Peregrine Fund are working to protect other raptors in Asia that, unlike the Oriental honey-buzzard, have very limited ranges and are vulnerable to extinction (8).

To find out more about the conservation of raptors in Asia see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)