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Western Marsh Harrier
Circus aeruginosus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: Eurasian Marsh-harrier, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, European Marsh Harrier, European Marsh-harrier, Marsh Harrier, Western Marsh-harrier.

Circus aeruginosus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Western Europe east to central Asia, Asia Minor, and MONGOLIA and northwestern Africa south to TUNISIA; winters in southern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Indian subcontinent. more....

Subspecies: 2 races. C. a. aeruginosus: Breeds from Europe (Fennoscandia south to the Iberian Peninsula) and Asia Minor east into central Asia (Baikal) and MONGOLIA; winters in western and southern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and in the Indian subcontinent and SRI LANKA; C. a. harterti: Northwestern Africa from MOROCCO to TUNISIA.

Taxonomy: The forms maillardi, macrosceles, spilonotus, approximans, and ranivorus have all been treated as races of this species (Amadon 1978), and Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) confirmed that they form a monophyletic group, based on evidence from the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene.

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). Birds from northern, eastern, and central Europe are complete migrants, wintering in the Mediterranean Basin and sub-Saharan Africa, although few cross the equator. Populations breeding in Asia winter south to India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and the Malay Peninsula. Birds breeding in southern Europe, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Middle East are largely sedentary. Satellite-tracked birds from Sweden showed a distinct clockwise loop through southern Europe and West Africa, following more westerly routes in spring than in autumn (Klaassen et al. 2010). Isenmann et al. (2005) regarded the northern African race harterti in Tunisia as sedentary. Females arrive earliest on the wintering grounds, and they also winter farther south (Cheke and Walsh 1996). more....

Habitat and Habits: In the breeding range, it occurs mainly in freshwater wetlands, fishponds, and marshes, but is increasingly found also in agricultural areas. In England, birds hunt over reedbeds, grazing marshes, saltmarshes, and heathlands, and both wetland- and farmland-nesting birds also hunt over farmland (Danko et al. 1994, Brown and Grice 2005). In its winter range in Somalia, it prefers wetlands, although it also forages over grasslands, agricultural areas, and sand dunes (Ash and Miskell 1998). In Morocco, cereal fields, brushwoods, Cork Oak woodlands, and plantations of pines and acacias are preferred (Giraud-Audine and Pineau 1974). During the non-breeding season, large numbers may gather in communal roosts, particularly in India (Verma 2009-2010). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on small mammals (rodents, muskrats) and birds (ducks, sandpipers, rails), which it captures by coursing low over open areas, rising high in the air, and descending with outstretched claws (Flint 1984). Also may hunt birds in trees, or may jump into and rustling vegetation, then waiting motionless for prey to flush (Wells 1999). Hunts mostly during the early morning and evening. more....

Breeding: Nests on the ground primarily in marshy vegetation, especially reedbeds, but sometimes in drier situations. Builds a bulky nest of dried reeds, twigs, and small branches situated in thickets, on heaps of dried reeds, on hummocks, or on old haystacks (Flint 1984). The nestling period is about five weeks, and many young birds wander prior to migration (Brown and Grice 2005). more....

Conservation: European populations of this species declined dramatically at the beginning of the second half of the last century as a result of shooting, poisoning by pesticides, and habitat loss, including the draining of wetlands (Clarke 1995, Agostini and Pannuci 2010), However, it is now widespread and generally common in most parts of its breeding range, and the breeding populations in some countries have increased greatly during recent decades. There has been a 216% increase in population indices in Europe since 1980, but a decline of 25% in the same indices since 1990 (PECBMS 2009). According to BirdLife International (2004), the European breeding population increased from 1970-1990, but there were some declines in southeastern Europe during 1990-2000. Elsewhere, particularly in Ukraine and Russia, populations increased, or were stable, and overall, European population underwent a moderate increase of less than 10% (BirdLife International op cit.). Important threats to this species include illegal shooting in Malta and the proliferation of wind farms in southern continental Italy (Coleiro et al. 1996, Panuccio et al. 2007). Categorized globally as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The European population was estimated at 52,000 to 88,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council 2000), but this was soon revised upward to 93,000 to 140,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). more....

Important References: 
Agostini, N. C. Coleiro, and M. Pannucio. 2003. Autumn migration of Marsh
  Harriers across the central Mediterranean. Ring 25:47-52.
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
Cramp, S., and K.E.L. Simmons. 1980. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the
  Middle East and North Africa: the birds of the western Palearctic. Vol. 2.
  Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Molina, B., and F. Martínez. 2009. [The Western Marsh Harrier: population
  in 2006 and census method]. Seguimiento de Aves no. 33. SEO BirdLife,
  Madrid, Spain. (In Spanish with English summary).
Orta, J. 1994. Western Marsh-harrier. P. 137 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott,
  and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Simmons, R.E. 1997. European Marsh Harrier. Pp. 238 in J.A. Harrison et
  al. (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines.
  BirdLife South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Simmons, R. 2000. Harriers of the world: their behaviour and ecology.
  Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Underhill-Day, J.C. 1984. Population and breeding biology of Marsh
  Harriers in Britain since 1900. Journal of Applied Ecology 21:773-787.
Underhill-Day, J.C. 1998. Breeding Marsh Harriers in the United Kingdom,
  1983-95. British Birds 91:210-218.

Sites of Interest:
Western Marsh Harrier photos.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.
Highland Foundation for Wildlife
Details on satellite tracking of marsh harriers from Scotland.

Agostini, Nicolantonio
Alzaoby, Yousef
Camina, Alvaro
Corso, Andrea
Deshmukh, Ajit
Gamauf, Anita
Gercken, Marian
Jais, Markus
Panuccio, Michele
Saharudin, Muhd Hakim
Schröpfer, Libor
Scott, Don
Vintchevski, Alexandre

Last modified: 10/10/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 20 Oct. 2021

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