Bird migration is one of the wonders of the natural world, undertaken by approximately one out of every five bird species. Migration is an extraordinary feat of endurance and stamina, whereby birds move from areas of decreasing resources to areas of increasing resources, mainly related to food and nesting locations. When travelling between their breeding and wintering grounds, certain flyways are opted because they offer suitable habitat for rest and refuelling. The Mediterranean/Black Sea Flyway is one of the three Palearctic-African routes connecting Europe with Africa.
Certain geographical barriers, including seas and mountain ranges act as obstacles for land-birds, especially raptors. Raptors or birds of prey, have evolved to optimise soaring-gliding flight, by using ascending air currents formed over land to soar and gain altitude. At sea, such thermals are absent, meaning that rather than flying over large bodies of water, they need to make use of land bridges to shorten the distance they fly over the sea. In the Mediterranean, the main flyways are over the Straits of Gibraltar and the Straits of Bosphorus. Smaller numbers cross from Tunisia to Europe via the central Mediterranean, crossing over Sicily. Since the Maltese Islands, are situated well east of the direct spring route from Cap Bon in Tunisia to the Strait of Messina, fewer birds opt for flying over Malta during spring. More raptors are recorded in the Maltese Islands in Autumn, since birds fly over the eastern side of Sicily, which is closer to the Maltese Islands.
Raptors are carnivorous birds with strong bills, large talons and broad wings with exceptional flight competences. The Honey Buzzard (Kuċċarda, Pernis apivoris) is one type of raptor, which feeds mostly on insects, but also small mammals and small birds. As an adaptation to its diet of honeycombs and wasp larvae, the honey buzzard has stiffened scale-like feathers around the eyes and forehead as a protection against bee and wasp stings.
It is a summer resident in Europe, wintering in west-central Equatorial Africa. As a long distance migrant, the Honey Buzzard uses magnetic orientation and visual memory of landscapes to navigate. It also prefers to soar on thermals, rising air over land, hence avoiding large expanses of water surfaces. In the Mediterranean, honey buzzards crossover the narrowest stretches of sea, or the so-called “land bridges”. In fact, the Honey Buzzard is one of the most commonly sighted birds of prey in the Maltese Islands – It is a common autumn migrant and occurs in smaller numbers in spring, mostly from late April and May. Buskett is an important roosting site for migrating birds, especially raptors. Observations of the Honey Buzzard migrating over Malta have shown that this bird crosses the Mediterranean Sea during weak lateral winds but not with following wind. Soars on flat wings, the Honey Buzzard sexes are quite easily identified by the colour of their plumage. The plumage of the Honey Buzzard is variable, but it is always dark brownish on its back and upper wings.