Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) a large harrier; making a slow but steady localised recovery from extinction in the early 19th century

Marsh Harrier
Marsh Harrier

The largest harrier found in the UK, the population is at its highest for 100 years, but still low and very localised. Since its recovery the Marsh Harrier has adapted its behaviour, with individuals wintering in the UK and breeding on farmland as well as traditional reedbed habitats. Marsh Harriers can be found in large numbers at the Hawk and Owl Trust’s, Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve in North Norfolk.

Slightly larger than a Buzzard, Marsh Harriers can be distinguished by their longer tail, slimmer body and narrower wings. Females are dark brown with a distinctive cream coloured crown and pale patches on the forewing and throat. Males have dark wing tips and grey tail, the breast and head appear yellowish with a brown belly, the upper-wing is a combination of black, grey and brown. Juveniles are dark brown with a golden crown and throat and a pale leading edge to the wing.

Length: 47-57cm; wingspan: 115-140cm

Status in UK
370 breeding females (2005), increasing but localised; AMBER listed; resident and summer visitor

Population Trends
Extinct in the UK by the end of the 19th century due to habitat loss and persecution, occasional nesting pairs returned to eastern England during the 1970’s. Numbers have increased steadily since then with birds adapting to different habitats for nesting. Many birds now overwinter and large roosts can be seen in some areas, especially in eastern England.

Habitat and Distribution
Mainly found in areas of reed bed, although as mentioned they also now frequent and breed on farmland. Main populations are in Norfolk, Kent, Lincolnshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Southern Scotland.

Originally nesting on the ground in reed beds, Marsh Harriers also nest in crops. Breeding pairs carry out impressive displays of aerobatics, tumbling through the air with the male dropping food for the female to catch in mid-air.

Females have a single clutch of 4-5 eggs and start to breed at 3 years of age. Males are not monogamous and will sometimes mate with 2 or 3 different females.

Marsh Harriers feed on small mammas and birds, preferring prey that is easier to catch. They will also take reptiles, insects and carrion.

Other Diurnal Birds of Prey