Oriental Honey-buzzard - Pernis ptilorhynchus

Species description

Oriental beauty was always one of the main attractions here in Eilat. However, this year (winter 2018/19) is overwhelming. No less than 9 Oriental Honey Buzzards drive the birders crazy. Two adult males, two adult females and two second calendar year beasts are roaming the skies of the bird sanctuary on a daily base, sitting on the trees or hiding in the adjacent date plantation.


Creasted Honey Buzzard - Adult Male

IBRCE 17.1.19

Photo: Felix Timmermann


Oriental Honey Buzzards made history in Eilat. The first record for the Western Palearctic region was found here in May 1994 during migration. No one was aware back then, of a population of this special raptor, that does not winter in Southern Asia, so their appearance year after year every spring in Eilat and later on in autumns in the rest of Israel, was a sign of change. May and September were their times to show up between the endless streams of hundreds of thousands of European Honey Buzzards. Since these records, Oriental Honey Buzzards showed up also in Batumi, Georgia, Greece and many other places in Europe and Arabia.


The first winter record here came in a shape of a young female who was mostly enjoying the date plantation in 2008. This dark female has returned winter after winter, growing into an adult's plumage as the years went by. However, something unusual happened in 2018. Oriental Honeys' started showing up in numbers from March into the spring and the following summer. This winter will probably be written in the Honey Buzzard's history as the year when the species has really settled in Eilat.

Oriental Honey Buzzards are known now to over winter also in the rest of Arabia. Our own explanation for the change of status in Eilat is the massive invasion of the Oriental Pygmy Bee (Apis florea). Since 2007 it is here and spreading in numbers, but just 20 KM north of Eilat (Beer Ora). And yes, you got it right - this is where and when we started having these Oriental beauties in winter here.


Source - "A sweet story from Eilat" - Eilat Birding Blog - January 2019



Some Highlights from spring 2016


4th of May - (CRESTED) Honey Buzzard


The last few days have been characterised by the high amount of Honey Buzzards passing through. This skulking forest-dweller is known to be one of Eurasia’s most secretive raptors and spends its summer more or less unnoticed by humans.


They are known to migrate in a very short period during the end of April or the beginning of May and again in the end of August/beginning of September coming from and travelling to their winter grounds in Subsaharan Africa. A truly majestic species and an honour to observe during its migration. The end of spring is the time of the year the species isn’t shy and even manages to be confiding whilst crossing a mountain ridge or coming down to drink.



Classic adult cinnamom type male Crested Honey Buzzard (03/05/2016 - High Mountain).


Typical throat patch is visible, surrounded by dark gorget.

6 fingers with barring in the primaries while the tail is very much like a Wood Dove: consisting out of 2 colors: black and white.

Eye seems to be dark and no carpals are clear, only a little hint at the leading edge of the wing.


Shape overall eagle-like with broad wings and tail generally shorter than width of the wing.



About 20 years ago, news got out that the oriental relative of our European Honey Buzzard, the Crested/Oriental Honey Buzzard, could be expected as well during migration, though very rare. This bird has become one of Israëls’ most wanted species and is notoriously hard to identify.


Its distribution reaches from Mongolia to the Pacific Ocean and the wintering range goes from Oman to South-East Asia. Israël is more or less the westernmost site in the world where this species regularly occurs as a vagrant, and together with Batumi (Georgia) the only place in the Western Palearctic where this species is guaranteed during a migration season. Over 10 birds got seen this year in Eilat and its surroundings so far, and many more have yet to come. For more information regarding the identification of this species, see here.





Classic adult female light morph Crested Honey Buzzard, IBRCE, Eilat (12/04/2016).


A typical female with no carpals, fingers,

white throat patches surrounded by dark gorgets and eagle-like (Short-toed Eagle!) appearance.




During the years, the characteristics of this species have become more and more clear. Since it concerns two close relative species, hybridizing got a feature to look for. Over the years it became clear that the two species mix in a relatively broad strip in Siberia, more or less situated between eastern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia. Since the Honey Buzzard migration in Israël mainly consists out of European Honey Buzzards, hybrids were expected as well.


Our volunteers managed to locate multiple Crested Honey Buzzards the last few days. A dark morph male was seen at High Mountain the 26th of April, two birds (cinnamom male and light female) the 28th of April, two birds the 3th of May (two cinnamom males) and another bird the 4th of May, perched in the date plants north of IBRCE (adult light male).


Hybrids were seen the 30th of April at High mountain (at least 4 different birds) and the 1st of May at Neot Semadar Sewage, recognisable by their intermediate characters. See the attached pictures for a short intro about their ID.



Hybrid Crested x European Honey Buzzard (Neot Semadar Sewage, 1st of May 2016).


This bird immediately got our attention by its intermediate appearance. Not a light, not a dark but a red eye points toward a hybrid. 6 fingers and gular patch are OK for Crested, while the fainted gorget and rather broad white band on the undertail point more towards European.


Also the carpals are very faintly visible, although this is possible in some Crested.

Overall shape in between the two species!


One of the more clear birds and presumably a F1 generation hybrid.



So what’s the ratio of pure/hybrid birds? It’s believed that hybrids are more common than pure birds, but because of their intermediate characters, aren’t easil

identified. As a volunteer I have to admit skipping multiple birds that didn’t really fit for either of the species, most likely being a hybrid. In some cases however, as the bird at Neot Semadar by example, hybridism can be proved and results in an extremely interesting observation. Have a look at the pictures for a short intro about the ID of hybrids.

Hybrid or pure bird, both Crested and European Honey Buzzards are a true joy to observe. The big wave of Honeys is expected tomorrow or at least the next few days. Our volunteers are waiting…



Thanks to Yoav Perlman for his help regarding the ID of hybrid CrestedxEuropean HB's.


Eilat Spring Migration TEAM

Conservation Levels

Where can we observe Oriental Honey-buzzard

Weekly Bar Chart

Last Observations

Date Coordinates Count Observer
16/10/2019 Eilat city 1 Itamar Donitza [eBird]
14/10/2019 Eilat city 1 Itamar Donitza [eBird]
14/10/2019 Eilat city 1 Shachar Shalev


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