Oriental Honey-buzzard feeding on a honeycomb

Oriental Honey-buzzard tearing out pieces of honeycomb.

On 28th November 2018, Lee Li Er was at Singapore’s Hindhede Nature Park, adjacent to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. There, she encountered an Oriental Honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus) feeding from a brownish, old honeycomb where the Giant Honey Bees (Apis dorsata) had absconded. Along the same branch can be seen traces of other old brown, damaged comb segments, most probably damaged by an earlier attack. This was thus not a freshly raided colony but was damaged some days or weeks ago. This is confirmed by the absence of swarming bees in the video below.

The fact that the honey-buzzard was taking its time tearing out pieces of the honeycomb and swallowing them confirms the absence of swarming bees.

Giant Honey Bees build a massive honeycomb in the open, attached under a massive horizontal tree branch. The honeycomb is generally not visible as it is permanently covered by a protective curtain of several layers of worker bees which hang down in chains from the branch.

Oriental Honey-buzzard tearing out pieces of honeycomb. Arrow points to the bird’s head.

The honeycomb is a mass of white hexagonal wax cells used to store honey and pollen as well as to house bee larvae and pupae. Honey-buzzards are attracted to honeycomb as they feed on the larvae and pupae. At the same time, they will be swallowing honey and pieces of wax.

Giant Honey Bee workers, being larger than those of other bees, have larger stingers, more poison and a very deterring buzzing sound. They thus have a very effective colony defense system. But they are no match against the Oriental Honey-buzzard.

Honey-buzzards are well adapter against bees’ stings as their forehead and areas around the eyes are protected by scale-like feathers believed to be infused with a chemical deterrent against bees, wasps and hornets – see HERE and HERE.

Lee Li Er
1st January 2019

Koeniger, N., G. Koeniger & S. Tingek (2010). Honey bees of Borneo: Exploring the centre of Apis diversity. National History Publications (Borneo), Kota Kinabalu. 262 pp.

This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behaviour through photography and videography to a wider audience.

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