Birds – The Honey Buzzards

(Pernis), so called from their especial fondness for the comb and larva of bees and wasps, are typical of the second subfamily, the Pernince. They number five species, and are found exclusively in the Old World, where they range from Europe and northern Asia over Africa and India to Japan, the Philippines, Sumatra, Celebes, etc. They are distinguished at once by having the lores and sides of the head, as well as the forehead and chin, covered with small scale-like feathers, which are without bristles or bristly ends, this dense covering probably serving as a protection against the sting of bees and wasps. They are further distinguished by having a rather elongate but weak bill, which is not strongly hooked at the end. The tarsus is short, stout, and covered with small hexagonal scales, while the toes are long, covered above with bony shields, and provided with long, slightly curved claws, the middle one of which is somewhat dilated on the inner side. In the wing the third and fourth quills are subequal and longest.

The best-known Honey Buzzard (P. Apivorus) is found in summer over Europe and western Asia, and in winter migrates to Africa, being only a rare or occasional visitor to the British Islands. It is about twenty-five inches in length, brown above, the feathers with slightly paler margins, while the head is ashy gray and the under parts white, narrowly streaked with brown. There is a very considerable amount of variation in the color and markings of the plumage, especially in birds of the first and second years. This species is said not to make its own nest, but to take possession of the abandoned nest of a Crow or Kite, which is relined with green leaves, preferably of beech, or with twigs with the green leaves on them. The eggs are two to four in number, with a creamy or pale red ground color, boldly blotched and spotted with purplish brown.

In the Indian peninsula, Ceylon, Burma, and other Eastern countries the place is filled by the Crested Honey Buzzard (P. Ptilonorhynchus), a bird that is darker brown above, and is further distinguished by having a crest which is from one to four inches in length. It lives, according to Blanford, largely among trees, or is seen soaring above them, with a flight that is rather hurried although it seldom flies far. It is not a shy bird, but is often found living and even nesting in wooded gardens and groves about houses. Its nest, which it appears to build for itself, is placed in the fork of a tree, and is made of small sticks and lined, like the nest of its relative, with green leaves. The eggs are usually two, although not infrequently there is but one. The Crested Honey Buzzard subsists principally upon the combs of bees, — eating honey, wax, and larvae, — also the bees themselves, other insects, reptiles, and occasionally the eggs and young of birds.