The basic structure of a bird feather may be adapted to suit a variety of functions on different parts of the body and in different species. In Oriental honey buzzards (Pernis ptilorhynchus), a species which often preys on the larvae of bees and wasps, it is thought that the bird's integument may provide protection against the stings of these insects. We investigated the structure of Oriental honey buzzard feathers from the face, head, and neck using light and scanning electron microscopy. The structure and appearance of the feathers were compared with those of two other hawk species which live in similar habitats but have different diets: the grey-faced buzzard (Butastur indicus) and the black kite (Milvus migrans). All feathers of Oriental honey buzzards that were examined were smaller than feathers from the same regions of the body of other species and had a reduced number of plumulaceous barbs; barbs were also closer together at the feather tip and had a high barbule density. The small ‘scale feathers’ on the face had deep barbules with a curved, armor-like appearance, which may help prevent stings from reaching the skin. A unique filamentous substance was observed on all the honey buzzard feathers, particularly those from around the eye of a male bird. It is possible that this may be related to a chemical defense mechanism to deter bees and wasps.
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Vol. 33 • No. 3