Montagu's Harrier

Circus pygargus

43-47cm

Appearance

This is an elegant raptor, smaller in stature than the Buzzard. Its wings and tail are long, its body more slender than the Hen Harrier. The sexes are different; the male is mostly bluish grey with a greyish white rump. His wingtips are black and he has a dark bar on his upperwing and two of these on the underwing. Close up, he has red-tinged barring on the underwing coverts and the same colour streaks on his belly. The female is a little larger than the male; she is pale, streaky brown, and she has a dark crescent mark on her cheeks. She has a white rump and two black bars on her underwing. Juvenile has uniformly reddish-brown underparts, its upperparts are dark brown and it has a white rump.

Habitat

This bird migrates to the region from its winter grounds in Africa; the small numbers that breed in Britain are usually found in the south and the east of England. It prefers arable farmland and heathland, and often nests in wet fields, moors and dunes.

Character

Can appear to fly slowly as it soars on thermals, its wings shaped in a 'V', and can break into a sudden plunge to attack prey. Usually alone or in pairs, though in larger populations birds may hunt together. The male has a dance he performs in the sky as a component of courtship, along with passing food to the female while in the air.

Food

Descends on small birds and mammals, including voles, shrews and rabbits. Diet also includes lizards and insects, and the eggs of other birds.

Breeding

Breeding usually begins in May; female lays 4-5 eggs which she incubates for 28-29 days. She lays the eggs in succession with usually 2-3 days between each one; this means the young differ slightly in age. They fly after 35-40 days but stay with their mother for another 10-14 days.

Population

This bird is a summer visitor, though there are a few birds who pass by in spring and autumn. Approximately 16 pairs have attempted to nest in Britain in the last few years, making their status unstable.

Observation Tips

Female and juvenile birds can be difficult to identify when compared to female and juvenile Hen Harriers. Note the more narrow and longer wings of the Montagu; this is perhaps the best way to separate the two species. In spring and autumn, coastal bird-viewing spots are the best places to see birds on the move through the region. In the breeding season, relevant habitats in north Norfolk and around the Hampshire-Wiltshire border are good places to search.

Voice

While nesting it makes a high-pitched yick-yick-yick.
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