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Montagu’s Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) a rare breeding visitor to the UK easily confused with the Hen Harrier.

Montagu's Harrier
Montagu’s Harrier

A medium sized, slim bird of prey that spends summer months in a few sites within the UK. The Montagu’s Harrier has long narrow wings, unlike the broader winged Hen Harrier. It has a slender body and long tail, and is almost ‘tern like’ in flight. The male Montagu’s has extensive black markings on the wing tip and a distinct black band along the length of the wing, both above and below – which is absent in the Hen Harrier. Variations occur in the plumage between younger and older male birds; younger birds have chestnut streaking on the belly whilst older males have less streaking and a more extensive blue/grey breast and belly. Females are best distinguished from Hen Harriers by their shape.

The juvenile has a generally unstreaked chestnut breast but may have some dark streaking on the sides.

Length: 40-50cm; wingspan: 96-120 cm.

Status in UK
15 pairs in 2009; AMBER listed; summer visitor (April to September), winters in sub-Saharan Africa.

Population Trends
The Montagu’s harrier is a very rare summer visitor and like all raptors is at risk from persecution, pesticides and habitat loss. Numbers have never been high in the UK and only 15 pairs were identified as breeding in 2005-2009. Montagu’s are at risk from persecution whilst migrating through southern Europe.

Habitat and Distribution
Restricted to southern England, increasingly nesting on arable farmland as opposed to marshes, very rare in the UK with nest sites kept secret to prevent persecution by egg collectors.

Breeding
Nests on the ground on open heaths, marshlands and arable farmland. Breeds from 2-3 years of age, laying a single clutch of 4-5 eggs.

Feeding
Mainly small mammals but will take small birds, reptiles and insects.

Other Diurnal Birds of Prey