The Bird of Many Morphs!!! – The Oriental Honey-buzzard

Binomial Name: Pernis ptilorhynchus

Though a raptor, i.e. a bird of prey, the Oriental Honey-buzzard has a typical un-raptor-like facial appearance. It is typically identified by its pigeon-shaped head and longish neck.

The oriental Honey-buzzard, as the name goes, feeds on larvae of bees, wasps, and hornets and also eats bits of the comb and honey. To facilitate this, it has scale-like feathers around its eyes and forehead which provide armor against the stings. It also takes other insects, reptiles, small frogs, young or injured birds, etc.

DSC_0920-for-blogThe Oriental Honey-buzzard is known apparently to have 20-odd morphs. What exactly does the word “morph” mean? As I understand it and probably the simplest way to put it is, a morph is a regularly occurring color pattern within a bird species that isn’t associated with what the age, gender and subspecies of that individual bird is. So:

  • Morph is entirely different from the plumage variations in adult, subadult or juvenile birds.
  • Also, it is not the same as sexual dimorphism. A dimorphic bird has different plumages between genders.DSC_0030-for-blog

Thus, morph simply means a variant. dsc_0188-for-blogA bird with distinctly different plumage than the standard colors for its species.  This classification applies only to adult birds as subadult birds will have different plumages but as they mature they will have the characteristic adult markings. A morph bird will maintain its color differences throughout different seasonal molts.

Each morph may have specific advantages in certain habitats like survival and reproductive advantages. It has been suggested that the OHB morphs mimic the plumages of larger raptors to avoid predation. Since OHBs are polymorphic, highly variable in plumage and with winter migrants, it is difficult to differentiate between the two races, ruficollis and orientalis.

DSC_1112-for-blogSexual Dimorphism in Oriental Honey-buzzards as I understand it: Broad differentiation is as follows:

  • Sides of the head and lores in males are covered with fine grey, scale-like feathers. In females, the feathers are browner, slightly washed grey. Females are darker than males. Upperparts are uniform dark brown in male, darker and deeper brown in females. Oriental-Honey-Buzzard-rudraksh-1Males usually show more bluish grey on the head than females.
  • In flight, one can notice that in males, there are two parallel bands that can be at the base of the tail. Oriental-Honey-Buzzard-2A characteristic blackish trailing edge of flight feathers and a second band across primaries are diagnostic. Females usually show three evenly spaced tail-bands (two narrow dark bands towards the tail base evenly separated from a dark broad subterminal band).
  • Generally, the males are said to have darker eyes and females yellow, but there are plenty of exceptions. So this is not an accurate distinguishing feature between the sexes the way the difference in the tail bands is.
  • The juveniles have dark eyes and yellow cere (the fleshy skin just above the beak where the bird’s nostrils are located), legs and feet.





If you did enjoy reading this post and if I have been successful in sharing this info as well as I hoped to, you could try your hand at identifying the birds, whether male, female or juvenile using the pointers that I have put across!!!

Thank you for reading patiently!!! 🙂

(Some of these amazing Oriental Honey Buzzard images have been contributed by my dear friend and fellow birder, Rudraksh Chodankar)

– Until the next post…Ciao friends!!!