Age-dependent migration strategy in honey buzzards Pernis apivorus tracked by satellite


  • Mikael Hake,

  • Nils Kjellén,

  • Thomas Alerstam

M. Hake, Grimsö Wildlife Res. Stn, Dept of Conservation Biology, SLU, SE-730 91 Riddarhyttan, Sweden ( – N. Kjellén and T. Alerstam, Dept of Animal Ecology, Ecology Building, Univ. of Lund, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Six adult and three juvenile honey buzzards Pernis apivorus were radio-tracked by satellite during autumn migration from southwestern Sweden. All adults crossed the Mediterranean Sea at the Strait of Gibraltar and continued across the Sahara desert to winter in West Africa, from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. Analysing three main steps of the migration, (1) from the breeding site to the southern Mediterranean region, (2) across the Sahara and (3) from the southern Sahara to the wintering sites, the adults changed direction significantly between these steps, and migrated along a distinct large-scale detour. In contrast, the juveniles travelled in more southerly directions, crossed the Mediterranean Sea at various places, but still ended up in the same wintering areas as the adults. Average speeds maintained on travelling days were similar for the two age groups, about 170 km/day in Europe, 270 km/day across Sahara and 125 km/day in Africa south of Sahara. However, as the adults used fewer stopover days en route, they maintained higher mean overall speeds and completed migration in a shorter time (42 days) than the juveniles (64 days). Although the juveniles set out on more direct courses towards the wintering grounds, they did not cover significantly shorter distances than the adults, as they tended to show a larger directional scatter between shorter flight segments. The results corroborate previous suggestions that adult and juvenile honey buzzards follow different routes during autumn migration, and that the birds change migration strategy during their lifetime. While juveniles may use individual vector orientation, social influences and learning may be of great importance for the detour migration of adults. The remarkable and distinct age-dependent shift in migratory route and orientation of the honey buzzard provides a challenging evolutionary problem.