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Pallid Harrier
Circus macrourus

Status: Near Threatened

Population Trend: Unknown.

Other Names: Pale Harrier.

Circus macrourus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds from UKRAINE and southwestern RUSSIA east to northwestern CHINA (Lake Balkash) and perhaps northern MONGOLIA south to TURKEY and IRAN; has also nested in SWEDEN and GERMANY; winters mainly in Africa south of the Sahara, and from PAKISTAN, INDIA and SRI LANKA east to southern and occasionally eastern CHINA; a few remain in southeastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Known to have hybridized with C. pygargus (Orta 1994), and mixed pairs have even raised young successfully (Forsman 1995). Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2000, 2004) confirmed a close relationship between this species, C. hudsonius, C. cyaneus, C. cinereus, and C. maurus, based on an analysis of nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial gene, cytochrome b.

Movements: Complete, long distance migrant (Bildstein 2006), wintering mainly in tropical Africa, but also in India and Myanmar. Most birds migrate south in August to October and return in April and May. In its winter range, this species is nomadic and moves around sub-Saharan Africa in response to changing weather conditions (Tarboton 1990). Its center of winter distribution is in central and East Africa and, especially, the Sahel and West African grasslands, where locusts are more common (Clarke 1986). Murdoch and Betton (2005) noted that in Syria males move north before females in spring. more....

Habitat and Habits: Breeds in open country, mainly steppes and grasslands, but also in agricultural areas and marshes. A few pairs nest in taiga and forest tundra north of the main breeding range (Kuznetsove 1994). On the wintering range, it prefers dry to damp grasslands associated with open pans or floodplains, or open areas in woodland (Simmons and Brown 2006). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on rodents (mice, voles, susliks) and more rarely on small birds and their eggs and nestlings, lizards, other small reptiles, frogs, and insects. It has a major dependence on birds in the diet during periods of rodent scarcity (Davygora and Belik 1994). In southern Africa, locusts are a favorite prey, and they may be taken on the wing (Steyn 1982). Like other harriers, it searches for prey by quartering the ground at 1-5 m (Simmons and Brown 2006). more....

Breeding: Nests on the ground or on a hummock, occasionally on a heap of dry reeds (Flint 1984), or under a bush (Adamian and Klem 1999). Clutch size is 3-6 bluish-white eggs with brown markings (Flint op cit.). more....

Conservation: Although this species was formerly far more widespread and common in its winter quarters, it became one of the most threatened harriers in Eurasia because of fragmentation of its breeding range by the conversion of steppe grasslands to arable agriculture, intensive grazing of wet pastures, and the clearance of shrubs and tall weeds (Tucker and Heath 1994, Gallo-Orsi et al. 2003). Contaminant effects, including the use of pesticides on locust outbreaks in its wintering range, have probably also contributed to its significant decline (Simmons and Brown 2006). There are signs, however, that its numbers have increased over the past two decades, as individuals are showing up more frequently in western European countries, both during migration periods and the breeding season (Forsman and Peltomäki 2007). There was a major influx into Europe in autumn 2011, with large numbers showing up in Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the Iberianb Peninsula (van den Berg and Haas 2011). For this reason it is not clear if the global population is increasing or decreasing, or merely shifting due to climate change. Categorized globally as Near Threatened and decreasing by BirdLife International, this is certainly a species that needs to be monitored closely over its broad range. more....

Population Estimates: Orta (1994) estimated the global population as less than 20,000 pairs, but this was later reduced to 9,000-15,000 pairs (Gallo-Orsi et al. 2003). The European population was estimated at 1,000 to 2,100 breeding pairs by BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council (2000), but this was later revised downward to 310 to 1,200 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004).

Important References: 
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
Clark, W.S. 1997. Identification of perched Montagu's and Pallid Harriers.
  Birding World 10:267-269.
Corso, A., and C. Cardelli 2004. The migration of Pallid Harrier across
  the central Mediterranean with particular reference to the Strait of
  Messina. British Birds 97:238-246.
Davygora, A.V., and V.P. Belik. 1994. The Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
  as an endangered species in the Palearctic. Pp. 93-96 in B.-U. Meyburg and
  R.D. Chancellor (eds.), Raptor conservation today. World Working Group on
  Birds of Prey, Berlin and Pica Press, London.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Galushin, V., R. Clarke, and A. Davygora. 2003. International Action Plan
  for the Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus). BirdLife International,
  Cambridge, UK. 32 pp.
Orta, J. 1994. Pallid Harrier. P. 140 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. Pallid Harrier. P. 240 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.
Simmons, R.E. and C.J. Brown. 2006. Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare
  and endemic species. National Biodiversity Programme, Windhoek, Namibia.
Terraube, J., B.E. Arroyo, F. Mougeot, M. Madders, J. WAtson, and E.A.
2009. Breeding biology of the Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus in
  north-central Kazakhstan: implications for the conservation of
  a Near Threatened species. Oryx 43:104-112.
Vetrov, V.V. 1992. [Nesting of the Pallid Harrier in the Volgograd and
  Rostov regions]. Pp. 262-263 in E.N. Kurochkin (ed.), [Modern ornithology
  1991]. Nauka, Moscow.

Current Research: Biologists from Natural Research Ltd., in association with the North Kazakhstan Field Station near the Naurzum Natural Reserve, north-central Kazakhstan, are undertaking a study of the breeding ecology and conservation of the Pallid Harrier in its core breeding range in order to gain an understanding of the links between diet specialization, foraging and breeding habitat selection, local density dependence, and breeding success in this species.

Sites of Interest:
Pallid Harrier photos.
Natural Research
Details on satellite tracking of migrating Pallid Harriers.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.

Agostini, Nicolantonio
Camina, Alvaro
Corso, Andrea
Deshmukh, Ajit
Kothe, Sudhanshu
Panuccio, Michele
Scott, Don
Villers, Alexandre

Last modified: 7/6/2015

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Oct. 2021

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