The Montagu’s harrier is one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey. Named after the naturalist George Montague, the adult females look very similar to hen harriers and can be easily misidentified.
Scientific name: Circus pygargus
Status: Breeding summer visitor and passage migrant
Breeding birds: Fewer than 5 pairs
Conservation status: Amber
Length: 43 – 47 cm
Wingspan: 100 – 120 cm
Weight: 225 – 450 g
Adult male Montagu’s harrier have grey mantles and white rumps. On the wings their primaries are black, and they have black bands across the secondaries. They have grey breasts and white lower underparts streaked with rufous. Their tails are grey with barred outer rectrices.
Male Montagu’s harriers have grey heads and a black hooked bill with a yellow cere. Their eyes are golden and their legs and feet are yellow.
Female Montagu’s harriers have dark brown upperparts with paler median coverts. Their underparts are pale buff with dark bars on the underwing. Their throat and breast are streaked with dark brown and their belly and vent have fine brown streaks. They have white rumps and a barred tail.
Female Montagu’s harriers have dark ear coverts and a white area around the eyes.
Juvenile Montagu’s harriers are similar to females but with darker upperparts and the underparts are rufous without streaks.
Montagu’s harriers breed in May and June. The female builds the nest which is a small, shallow platform made from grass, stems, and twigs hidden in dense vegetation in grasslands, fields, and reedbeds.
Montagu’s harriers lay 3-5 cream coloured eggs that are slightly tinged blue which are incubated by the female alone for 28-29 days. Both parents feed the chicks with the female giving them prey caught by the male. Chicks fledge at 3-40 days and begin to hunt about 2 weeks later. They are sexually mature at 2-3 years.
Montagu’s harriers prey on small birds and their chicks, voles, rabbits, shrews, insects, and lizards. They will also take molluscs, worms, snakes, and amphibians.
Where to see them
Montagu’s harriers can be spotted between May and September. Their nest sites are kept secret to protect them but they can be seen on passage on the southern and eastern coasts of England.
Did you know?
Montagu’s harriers are long distant migrants and European birds spend their winters in sub-Saharan Afica.