he RSPB is calling on farmers and birdwatchers to help locate the UK’s rarest nesting bird of prey: the Montagu’s harrier. The population of this beautiful bird of prey is down to fewer than a dozen pairs, most of which nest in crops.
The RSPB is appealing for sightings of the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey in an attempt to find and protect their nests, which are often hidden away in lowland crops and often only found at harvest time.
Montagu’s harriers return to the UK in late April after spending the winter in Africa. They breed almost entirely in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly choosing winter cereals, oilseed rape and grass silage. The core population often returns to the same nesting locations each year and RSPB has been working successfully with these farmers for over 30 years, protecting this species.
Farmers have been essential
Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier work for the RSPB, said: “Along with species like stone-curlews and corncrakes, farmers have been essential in conserving our tiny population of Montagu’s harriers and through this hotline we hope to locate additional pairs that may otherwise have been missed.” He added: “The UK population is currently teetering on the brink, and finding additional pairs will be a bonus. All reports will be treated in the strictest of confidence.
“We’re hopeful that farmers and birdwatchers who spot Montagu’s harriers will contacts us so we can confirm the sightings. We can offer free advice on how these sites can be protected to ensure these magnificent birds can successfully rear young.”
Montagu’s harriers are striking birds. They are larger than a kestrel with long wings and a long tail giving them a slender appearance. The males are pale grey with black wing tips and the females largely brown with a white rump. They feed on mammals, small birds, reptiles and insects by quartering low over crops before dropping on their prey.
Anyone who thinks they may have seen a Montagu’s harrier is urged to contact the hotline on 01767 693398 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details should include the date and six digit grid reference, if possible, and a contact telephone number.