Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over 10 years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in 10 years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Ferguson-Lees et al. (2001) estimated the population to number 100,000-1,000,000 individuals, with regional estimates suggesting between 10,000-15,000 pairs in France (Dubois et al. 2008), 1,850 in Spain (Palomino and Valls 2011), 8,000-11,000 in Belarus (Dombrovski and Ivanovski 2005) and 60,000-80,000 in European Russia (Galushin 2012). In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 120,000-175,000 breeding pairs, equating to 241,000-350,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International in prep.). Europe forms approximately 82% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 294,000-427,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed. The global population size is likely much larger than this however, with an annual mean of 528,000 individuals (mostly adults) counted each year passing through the Batumi migratory bottleneck, with 180,000 individuals counted on a single day in 2012 (Hoekstra et al. 2020). Hence a revised global estimate is 290,000-430,000 mature individuals.
The population is suspected to be stable (Orta et al. 2020). The European population is estimated to be decreasing by less than 3% in 25 years (three generations [BirdLife International in prep.]), but is stable in Russia, which accounts for almost half of the European breeding population (Galushin 2012)
The species breeds across Europe and western Asia, from Spain and France in the west of its range, across to eastern Scandinavia through to western Russia as far as Kazakhstan, with the southerly breeding populations in the northern Mediterranean. It is a long distance migrant which spends the non-breeding period in sub-Sahara Africa, where it can be found throughout southern Africa. During migration, the species typically uses the major migration routes to reach sub-Sahara Africa, using sites throughout the Iberian Peninsula and western Africa in the west, whilst in the east it can be found throughout the Mediterranean and the middle east.
Behaviour This is a highly migratory species, spending the non-breeding phase in in tropical sub-Saharan Africa. It departs breeding grounds in August and September, returning between April and June (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Birds are mostly solitary except on migration, when they flock throughout, gathering in large numbers at preferred crossing points as well as roosting socially (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001; Porter and Aspinall 2010). They fly chiefly by soaring, although are able to cross wide stretches of water with flapping flight (Snow and Perrins 1998; Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The species is diurnal (Snow and Perrins 1998).
Habitat The European Honey-buzzard is a forest species, typically breeding in lowland or mid altitude undisturbed temperate or boreal woodland, but it has been recorded up to 2,000 m (Orta et al. 2020). It is also found in wooded farmland, small wetlands and meadows however (Global Raptor Information Network 2021), suggesting a slight tolerance to cultivated areas. During the non-breeding period in Africa, the species uses woodland, wooded savannah, farmbush and forest edge.
Diet Predominately an insectivore, mainly feeding on wasps and hornets but also noted to take flying termites and locusts in Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994).
Breeding site Nests are built in woods, preferentially in deciduous trees (del Hoyo et al. 1994).
Management information The species appears to require dense forest on its wintering grounds in Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1994).
Many birds are shot on migration, notably in Italy, Malta and Lebanon (del Hoyo et al. 1994, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001) and particularly in Georgia. In Georgia the species is hunted for sort, consumption and medicinal properties which means it is the most commonly hunted raptor on migration (van Maanen et al. 2001). Recently it was estimated that hunting in Georgia effects 1.1% of the migratory population which is annually recorded in passage in the country (Hoekstra et al. 2020), suggesting low, but significant declines. Direct mortality from shooting on migration was recorded as the highest cause of mortality (De Pascalis et al. 2020), and whilst European Honey-buzzards suffer from collision-mortality from vehicles and electrocution (Fransson et al. 2019), these appear more minor compared to shooting. Wind farm projects constructed on main migration routes could be a significant threat, as the species is highly vulnerable to Collison with turbines (Hilgerloh et al. 2011; STRIX 2012).
While declines in northern Europe are thought to have resulted from deforestation and forest conversion in the past, European Honey-Buzzards appear relatively robust to changes in breeding habitat, suggesting mortality on migration or during non-breeding grounds is of greater threat (Björklund et al. 2015). Although pesticide use has not had significant impacts in Europe (due to the species living in woodland and feeding on wasps), it may do in Africa, where there are fewer restrictions on usage and the species may be poisoned through its locust prey (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001).
Relatively less information is available for threats which occur during the African non-breeding period. However, within Africa birds appear reliant on large tracts of continuous forest suggesting widespread deforestation and fragmentation is likely negatively impacting honey-buzzards in Africa (Howes et al. 2020).
Conservation actions underway
The species is listed on CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II and Raptors MoU Annex 1. Occurs in protected areas throughout its entire range, whilst in Europe it occurs in 3353 Natura 2000 sites. It is well monitored during breeding with 12 European countries monitoring breeding efforts out of the 39 that it occurs in (Derlink et al. 2018).
Conservation and research actions needed
Considering the possibility of such high variation in the population size estimate, require abundance information of breeding efforts in Asia. Subsequently monitor population trends and productivity throughout the entire breeding range. Understand habitat requirements and distribution within sub-Saharan African non-breeding areas, to quantify the potential effects of forest loss and degradation. Quantify loses from hunting through the Mediterranean and middle east, enforce legislation in Europe and advocate for legislation in the middle east, to reduce hunting activity. Identify key sites along migratory routes where European Honey-buzzards would be vulnerable to the effects of collision-mortality, and use this to advise against wind farm and other developments.
Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Khwaja, N.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Pernis apivorus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 30/06/2022.