The female Honey Buzzard, so named because of their diet of bee and wasp larvae, had been caught up in a fierce storm and was near death when it found the Norlift. Crane operator and animal lover Kevin Burton was assigned the task of nursing the bird back to health. Because Honey Buzzards migrate from Europe to the warmth of the jungles of western and central Africa each winter it was determined that once the bird was healthy, she would be taken to Gibraltar and then released. Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) like to soar and require thermals for easier, long-distance flight. They avoid large bodies of water and so pass over the Straits of Gibraltar when migrating between Europe and Africa.
The story of the rescued Buzzard was picked up by the Aberdeen Evening Express and Burton was interviewed for the November 10th, 1998 edition of the newspaper.
“I’ve been called the Birdman of the Norlift for this”, said Burton. “The bird was absolutely on its last legs and I am sure it wouldn’t have made it if we hadn’t done something. I’ve certainly never seen a bird of prey on a vessel before, so it’s a pretty unique event.”
“His left shoulder became her preferred perch.”
The bird was too tired to resist Burton’s attention and once it realised it wouldn’t be harmed it became quite tame. Burton fed it by hand and after a few days she hopped onto his arm and then onto his left shoulder, which became her preferred perch.
After twelve days at sea, the Norlift arrived in Scotland and the Buzzard was taken to the SSPCA, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at Dundee.
“This was quite a significant find,” said Society Inspector Laura Higgins, “as this is a category one protected bird. In fact, it took three experienced handlers to identify her as a juvenile honey buzzard as they are so rare in this part of the world.
“She was quite thin and fatigued when we took responsibility for her. If she had been released in Scotland, she wouldn’t have made it. But thanks to British Airways we were able to fly her to a bird sanctuary in Gibraltar and she now has a very good chance of survival. The bird is expected to be released into the wild just after Christmas.”
I have been unable to find a follow up on how the release went, hopefully it was fine, and our Honey Buzzard enjoyed a warm winter in Africa. A Honey Buzzard was seen on the Rock as recently as June 20th this year. It could have been the bird of our story as the species’ average life expectancy in the wild is 29 years. She would be about 24 now, and after her experience in the North Sea I am sure she wouldn’t be averse to hitching a ride on a passing ship.
Anyone interested in the migration of birds via Gibraltar and their welfare should contact the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society at Field Centre, Jews’ Gate, Upper Rock Nature Reserve, PO Box, 843,