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Discover the Fascinating World of the Black Honey-buzzard: Unique Feeding Habits and Plumage

The Black Honey-buzzard (Henicopernis infuscatus) is a fascinating bird of prey found in parts of Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. This remarkable raptor is known for its unique feeding habits, where it specializes in feeding on honey and some fruit, making it a distinct avian species.

In this article, we explore the identification and plumage characteristics of the Black Honey-buzzard, providing birders with valuable knowledge that helps them identify this bird, and differentiate it from other species.


Field Identification

The Black Honey-buzzard is a medium-sized bird of prey with a distinctive plumage. Male and female birds are similar in appearance, making it difficult to differentiate the sexes.

This species has a broad wingspan of about 116 cm, which helps it soar to great heights while hunting. The adult Black Honey-buzzard often appears dark brown or black, having unmarked, pale grey legs.

This bird also has a long, slightly hooked bill that aids in its specialized feeding habits. You can distinguish this species from other honey-eating raptors by its distinct dark hood over the forehead, eyes, and face.

Similar Species

The Black Honey-buzzard is similar to several other raptor species, which can make it tricky to identify accurately. However, the presence of the dark hood over the forehead and the eyes makes it easy to distinguish it from other raptors.

Other similar honey-eating birds in Southeast Asia, such as the Crested serpent eagle and Rufous-bellied eagle, lack the Black Honey-buzzard’s characteristic dark hood, making identification easier. Moreover, the size and wing shape of these birds differ slightly from the Black Honey-buzzard.



Like many bird species, the Black Honey-buzzard undergoes molts that bring about changes in plumage color. The species has two primary molts, a complete annual post-breeding molt, and a partial prebreeding molt.

After breeding, adult Black Honey-buzzards molt all their feathers simultaneously, starting with their primaries and ending with their body feathers. During this molt, adult birds replace all their feathers with new ones, creating a different plumage shade.

The flight feathers replace the darkest feathers, creating a paler appearance. The prebreeding molt, which occurs when the bird is approaching its breeding season, involves the replacement of specific feathers.

This molt occurs gradually and is less noticeable, so it is often challenging to identify birds in the middle of a pre-breeding molt.


The Black Honey-buzzard is a special bird species, equipped with a unique plumage that marks it out from other birds of prey. Understanding the identification and plumage of this bird is essential for avid birdwatchers seeking to hone their identification skills.

Armed with this knowledge, birders have a better chance of spotting and identifying the Black Honey-buzzard and differentiating it from other raptor species.

Systematics History

The Black Honey-buzzard (Henicopernis infuscatus) is a raptor species belonging to the Accipitridae family of the order Accipitriformes. Its generic name, Henicopernis, means “honey-cutter,” referring to the bird’s unique feeding habits.

In contrast, the specific name, infuscatus, translates to “darkened,” describing the bird’s dark brown or black coloration.

Geographic Variation

The Black Honey-buzzard is an endemic bird found in parts of Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. Although the species has a large range, it is still a rare sight in many areas, making it a highly sought-after bird by birdwatchers.

Geographic variation is an observable phenomenon that occurs in species with broad geographic ranges. It refers to the differences in morphology and appearance that exist between populations of the same species inhabiting different geographical regions.

In the case of the Black Honey-buzzard, there are slight geographic variations in plumage and size between populations from different regions.


Based on historical and molecular research, the Black Honey-buzzard is divided into several subspecies according to their geographic range and plumage characteristics. The following subspecies are recognized:


H. i.

infuscatus – the nominate subspecies, found in New Guinea and surrounding islands.


H. i.

melanisticus – found in the Bismarck Archipelago. 3.

H. i.

reichenowi – found in the Philippines. 4.

H. i.

depositus – found in Sulawesi, the Togian Islands, and Banggai. 5.

H. i.

wallacii – found in the Sunda Islands. The first four subspecies have a dark chocolate brown plumage with a distinctive black hood over the forehead, eyes, and face.

In contrast, H. i.

wallacii has a lighter brown plumage with a less conspicuous black hood. Some subspecies also differ in size, with the smallest subspecies (H.

i. depositus) weighing approximately 550g, and the largest subspecies (H.

i. melanisticus) weighing up to 1000g.

Related Species

The Black Honey-buzzard is closely related to the New Guinea Eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae) and the Long-tailed Honey-buzzard (Henicopernis longicauda), which share several morphological and ecological traits. The New Guinea eagle is a huge raptor, with a wingspan of up to two meters and a weight of almost seven kilograms.

Comparison of these three species reveals morphological similarities, including a long tail and narrow wings, which enable them to maneuver through dense forests. All three species are also adept at raiding beehives and feeding on honeycomb.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Black Honey-buzzard’s distribution has remained relatively stable over geologic time, but there has been some noticeable fluctuation in its range throughout history. Many bird species have a unique distribution history, shaped by various factors, including climate change, habitat alteration, and human activities.

During the Pleistocene, the Black Honey-buzzard’s distribution may have been more extensive than it is currently, given that extensive landmasses joined parts of Southeast Asia and New Guinea. At this time, the Black Honey-buzzard may have had additional populations in what are now present-day Borneo, Sulawesi, and Java.

However, from the mid-Pleistocene era, a series of climate fluctuations and glaciations reduced the landmasses connecting various parts of Southeast Asia, leading to a decline in the Black Honey-buzzard’s range. Today, the species is primarily found in highland forests, and its distribution is restricted by habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Human activities, including deforestation, logging, and the expansion of agriculture and human settlements, have had a significant impact on the Black Honey-buzzard’s historical range. Over the past few decades, extensive deforestation in Southeast Asia has resulted in habitat loss for this raptor species, leading to a reduction in the population numbers of this highly specialized bird.


The Black Honey-buzzard is an exceptional species of raptor that shares many unique traits with other honey-eating raptors, including the Long-tailed Honey-buzzard and the New Guinea Eagle. Geographic variation amongst the subspecies of this species reveals slight differences in morphology and plumage coloration, enabling birdwatchers to identify the bird with greater accuracy.

Although the Black Honey-buzzard’s distribution has remained relatively stable over long periods, climate fluctuations and human activities have had significant impacts on the species’ historical range. In today’s world, a focus on habitat preservation and conservation measures is vital in ensuring the survival of this magnificent bird species.


The Black Honey-buzzard occupies a specific habitat, particularly in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. It prefers to reside in closed canopy tall primary forest, where it can easily find and hunt honeybees, wasps, and larvae, its primary food sources.

Although the species is still widespread, its range has been greatly reduced due to loss of habitat and deforestation.

The loss of this habitat in Southeast Asia, mainly due to human activities such as logging, has impacted the Black Honey-buzzard population significantly.

Thus, restoring and protecting the bird’s habitat is critical to its survival.

Movements and Migration

The Black Honey-buzzard primarily exhibits sedentary behavior, meaning that it does not migrate significantly. Instead, the bird adopts a nomadic lifestyle, moving to different locations to find food.

These movements are often associated with seasonal fluctuations in food availability. The bird’s movements are also affected by the reproductive cycle.

For instance, during the breeding season, Black Honey-buzzards become more territorial and tend to stay within a specific area. After breeding, the birds tend to move to areas rich in food sources.

Although the Black Honey-buzzard does not undergo a significant migration, some populations undertake altitudinal movements in search of food. For instance, at times of low food availability, the bird may move from the lowland regions where it breeds to higher altitude regions where there is more plentiful food.

Radio-tracking studies have shown that the Black Honey-buzzard has a relatively small home range compared to other similar raptor species. Birds within the same population tend to use similar habitat, with their ranges only differing slightly.

The range of the Black Honey-buzzard is also dictated by the availability of food sources. The bird is known to follow the seasonal flowering of certain tree species that produce the nectar that honey bees use to make honey.

The timing of the flowering determines suitable periods for the birds to breed. Other factors that influence the bird’s movement include climate, weather conditions, and topography.

Black Honey-buzzards tend to stay within their preferred habitat, only moving to more open areas if necessary.


Loss of habitat and deforestation have significantly impacted the Black Honey-buzzard population. As such, conservationist measures targeted at restoring and preserving the bird’s habitat are critical in ensuring its survival.

The bird’s natural habitat is fast disappearing due to logging and land conversion for agricultural purposes. In light of this, several organizations have embarked on programs of habitat restoration, including reforestation projects that involve planting native tree species.

In addition to these measures, promoting eco-tourism, and educating the local communities on the importance of conservation are vital. This strategy can help raise awareness and increase the support of conservation efforts to preserve the bird’s habitat.


The Black Honey-buzzard is a remarkable bird species with unique characteristics. Its specialized feeding habits and detailed habitat preference make it a distinctive species, revered by bird watchers.

Habitat destruction and deforestation have significantly impacted the bird’s populations in recent times, leading to a decline in numbers. Although the bird does not undertake significant migration across vast geographical areas, it exhibits nomadic tendencies in search of food and is affected by climatic and topographic conditions.

As such, preserving and restoring its natural habitat is essential to ensure the survival of this fantastic bird species. It is crucial to foster environmental awareness in communities adjacent to the bird’s habitat to increase support for conservation efforts aimed at restoring and preserving its habitat.

Diet and Foraging


The Black Honey-buzzard is renowned for its unusual feeding habits, which are unusual for a raptor species. Unlike other birds of prey, it feeds primarily on honey, wasps, and larvae.

It achieves this by using its long, hooked bill to access honeycombs and nests where wasps and bees lay their larvae. The bird’s unique feeding habits are facilitated by its adaptability in locating and accessing its preferred food.

The Black Honey-buzzard is known to raid hives that are in locations difficult to access, such as in tree branches or crevices in rocks. This ability is possible because the bird can twist its head 270 degrees, making it highly dexterous when foraging for food.


Due to the bird’s specialized feeding habits, it has a unique dietary preference that sets it apart from other raptor species. Its primary diet consists of honey, honeycomb, and wasps.

This diet provides the bird with the necessary energy to sustain its flight across vast forested areas as it can efficiently convert sugars found in honey into energy. In addition to honey and wasps, the Black Honey-buzzard occasionally adds fruits, small insects, and tree frogs to its diet.

The bird is also known to feed on the eggs and chicks of other bird species, although this makes up a small part of its diet.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black Honey-buzzard is known to have a lower body temperature than most other bird species in its size range. This “supercooling” ability allows it to conserve energy during long flights through its range, where lower outside temperatures help it maintain a cooler body temperature.

The bird’s body temperature regulation is also tied to its metabolism, which slows down during periods of low energy expenditure. This ability is advantageous, especially during lean periods, where the bird can conserve energy by slowing down its metabolism, enabling it to survive periods of food scarcity.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Black Honey-buzzard is not very vocal, unlike other raptors that use vocalization as an essential part of their breeding behavior. However, they do produce sounds continuously using vocal chirps and whistles when flying or perched.

During the breeding season, the bird is more vocal, with males producing a series of yelping calls as part of their courtship behavior. This yelping is also typical of the species when it exposes itself to threats or when defending its territory.

In comparison, females tend to be more vocal during the nesting period, producing a unique, sharp, piping sound that warns predators to keep away from their nests. These sounds and vocalization behaviors enable the bird to communicate with other Black Honey-buzzard species, establishing hunting territories and breeding pairs.

These vocalization behaviors play an essential part in the bird’s social and breeding habits, helping it to communicate with fellow species to establish mating pairs and hunting territories.


The Black Honey-buzzard’s specialized diet and habitat preference make it a unique bird species, highly sought after by bird watchers. However, its vegetation dependent habitat is highly threatened due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation.

The loss of the bird’s habitat has led to a significant decline in its population numbers in recent years. Thus, conservation measures such as habitat protection, preservation, and restoration, are critical in ensuring the bird’s long-term survival.

In addition to habitat protection measures, education of local communities on the importance of conservation and preservation efforts is vital. Encouraging eco-tourism and bird watching activities can also help raise awareness and contribute to conservation efforts aimed at preserving and protecting the Black Honey-buzzard.


The Black Honey-buzzard is a unique raptor species known for its specialized feeding habits and unique vocalization behavior during breeding. Its habitat and feeding habits make it a fascinating bird species distinct from other birds of prey.

However, habitat loss due to deforestation has caused a decline in its population numbers, making it a conservation concern. Protecting and restoring its natural habitat, as well as educating the public on the importance of conservation, is necessary to preserve this fantastic bird species.



The Black Honey-buzzard exhibits a unique flying style that is characteristic of other honey-eating raptors. Its wings are long and narrow and have distinctive primary and secondary feathers, enabling the bird to soar through the forest canopy with agility while hunting for food.

Its wingspan, together with its long tail, provides aerodynamic stability essential for aerial maneuverability to navigate through the dense forest canopy. In addition to aerodynamic maneuverability, the Black Honey-buzzard can fly slowly and hover for more extended periods than most other birds of prey.

It is equipped with excellent vision, enabling it to navigate through the forest canopy to locate bees, wasps, and larvae, its preferred food sources.


Like other raptor species, the Black Honey-buzzard is equipped with highly specialized talons and beaks that help it to groom and maintain its plumage. The bird is also known to spend considerable time perched in trees, using this time to groom its feathers.

Agonistic Behavior

The Black Honey-buzzards are relatively solitary birds, preferring to hunt and feed alone. However, during breeding, territories are established by males to attract mating partners.

This behavior may lead to conflicts when territories overlap. In such cases, the birds use a range of conflict-resolution behaviors, including vocalization, territorial displays, and physical confrontations when necessary.

Sexual Behavior

The Black Honey-buzzard is monogamous, pairing up with a single partner for the breeding season. Courtship behaviors are characterized by male birds flying over the female and engaging in aerial acrobatics, including rolling, spiraling and diving.

Males also produce yelping calls, which may lure females to their territorial perches. The courtship behavior may last for several days, after which mating occurs.


The breeding season for Black Honey-buzzards varies from region to region. The birds start to nest during the dry season, where flowering and fruiting are most common.

Black Honey-buzzards build their nests high up in the tree canopy using sticks and other materials. They choose sturdy trees that can support their weight and that have canopy cover to protect the nest from predators and extreme weather during the nesting period.

The female lays

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