European Honey Buzzard sites to be made public in Sussex


A number of European Honey Buzzard viewpoints are to be made public in Sussex, with birders encouraged to visit them and enjoy this rare summer visitor.

The announcement has been made by the Sussex Ornithological Society (SOS). The organisation's decision to make some viewpoints public was made following extensive consultation, including with the RSPB Crime Monitoring Unit, the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, neighbouring ornithological societies and the Sussex Ornithological Society membership.

The sites in question are documented in the recently published Where to Watch Birds in Surrey and Sussex book. Furthermore, sightings of honey buzzards at these sites will be broadcast to BirdGuides subscribers from this year onwards.

Mark Mallalieu, former Sussex County Recorder and a keen European Honey Buzzard conservationist, said: "It was agreed that the benefits of publicising viewpoints outweighed the risks and that it was right to put some into the public domain, not least since this has already happened to three counties with far fewer European Honey Buzzards than Sussex. I'd wondered for many years to what extent the secrecy surrounding the presence of birds in breeding habitats in Sussex was inhibiting a fuller understanding of their status."

European Honey Buzzard viewpoints in Sussex are to be made public in summer 2024 (Ian Bollen).


Increasing in Sussex

Mr Mallalieu continued: "The national survey in 2020 and 2021 was the incentive to find out more and this increased effort continued in 2022 and 2023. In 2023, we found 20 pairs – almost three times the highest previous annual total. Amazingly, some 60 adults were seen in breeding habitats over the summer, hinting at additional undiscovered pairs.

"Is this increase real or just a result of better coverage? The short answer is that we just don't know. But given the numbers of honey buzzards seen flying in off the sea in Kent in the middle of the breeding season, it is possible that younger birds that cannot find territories on the Continent are coming to Britain. Not all pairs breed. For example, in 2023 there were 14 breeding pairs out of the total of 20 pairs, while some of the other adults detected were definitely unpaired. In Sussex, these unpaired birds are usually males.

"The new Where to Watch Birds in Surrey and Sussex guide includes a number of viewpoints for European Honey Buzzard (and Eurasian Goshawk) in Sussex. Those for honey buzzard in particular do not provide guaranteed sightings, in part because of the species' often cryptic behaviour, but also because sites are not necessarily occupied every year. The sites chosen are a mix of more reliable ones and those for which more records are needed: something that SOS hopes that the new book will encourage. The book provides advice on seeing these birds and my illustrated talk here may also be useful."


Watching honey buzzards and goshawks

It is hoped that the decision to release information on some sites to watch these rare raptors will be a positive for both birds and birders alike, with increased sightings logged at the published locations and the resulting field experience gained by birders encouraging them to search further potential areas for the species across southern England and beyond.

Mr Mallalieu concluded: "The impact of this SOS decision will be monitored to check for both positive and adverse consequences and we urge birders and photographers to act responsibly at all times. The SOS has asked BirdGuides only to publish inland sightings of European Honey Buzzard (and Eurasian Goshawk) from the exact viewpoints mentioned in the book. If the initiative is successful in leading to more records of these birds and there are no adverse effects, this may lead to further sites being made public in the longer term."

To find out where European Honey Buzzards are being seen in Sussex and more widely across Britain, subscribe to BirdGuides.