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Black Harrier
Circus maurus

Status: Vulnerable

Population Trend: Stable.

Other Names: 

Circus maurus
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical. Southern SOUTH AFRICA north to Transvaal, LESOTHO, southern NAMIBIA, and southern BOTSWANA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Wink and Sauer-GŁrth (2004) found a close relationship between this species, C. hudsonius, C. macrourus, C. cinereus, and C. macrourus, based on an analysis of nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial gene, cytochrome b.

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). Birds breeding in the fynbos region in Cape Province are increasingly moving into north-central South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia during the non-breeding season (March-June), and marked movements into the far northeastern portion of the range in late summer (March-August) have also been documented (Simmons 1997).

Habitat and Habits: The main habitat is fynbos scrub- and bushlands, interspersed with marshes and sedgelands, and, more recently, cereal croplands for foraging (Curtis et al. 2004). Not as dependent on wetlands as other harrier species. Found in winter in dry Karoo steppes, semi-desert areas, and grasslands. In Namibia, it is found in Salicornia-like vegetation in floodplains, where small mammals are sometimes abundant (Simmons and Brown 2006). Ranges from sea level to as high as 2,500 m in the eastern interior. Spends most of its time perched on the ground, or on a post or other low perch. Hunts harrier-style, soaring low over suitable habitat. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Diet includes small mammals (rodents), small birds and their nestlings, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Has also been recorded taking carrion (Clancey 1985). Its most favored prey is the Vlei Rat (Otomys irroratus) (Smithers 1983), and the ranges of the two species coincide accurately. Birds forage between 1-3 m off the ground, specializing in hunting mice by slow quartering and a lightning-like strike into short vegetation or catching small birds after a short chase (Steyn 1982). more....

Breeding: The nest is a platform of reed stems and sticks often lined with wool and hair. It is usually placed in a reed bed or on the ground in other moist vegetation, sometimes in drier areas near wetlands. The pair shares nest-buliding duties. Clutch size is 3-4 eggs, which are bluish-white and unmarked. The incubation period is 34 days, and the chicks take flight in about 36 days. more....

Conservation: This is one of the rarest raptor species in the world. It may have lost over 50% of its core breeding habitat in the last century as a result of land use changes in the fynbos biome of its stronghold in southwestern Africa (Curtis et al. 2004). The Black Harrier is classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife International because of its small population size and its purported dependence upon private farmland. However, Simmons (2005) pointed out that the latter interpretation is erroneous, since most birds actually occur within preserves or other non-agricultural areas. more....

Population Estimates: The total global population of the Black Harrier is estimated at less than 1,000 birds (Van der Merwe 1981, Siegfried 1992, Barnes 2000, Simmons et al. 2005).

Important References: 
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Chadwick, P. 1997. Breeding by Black Harriers in the West Coast National
  Park, South Africa. Journal of African Raptor Biology 12:14-19.
Curtis, O., R.E. Simmons, and A.R. Jenkins. 2004. Black Harrier Circus
of the Fynbos biome, South Africa: a threatened specialist or
  adaptable survivor? Bird Conservation International 14:233-245.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.C. 1994. Black Harrier. P. 139 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.
Siegfried, W.R., and P.G.H. Frost. 1992. Conservation status of the South
  African endemic avifauna. South African Journal of Wildlife Research
Simmons, R.E.. 1997. Black Harrier. Pp. 241-243 in J.A. Harrison et al.,
  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. 2004. Reviewing the conservation status of the Black
  Harrier, Circus maurus. Gabar 16:29-31.
Simmons, R.E., and C.J. Brown. 2006. Birds to watch in Namibia: Red, rare
  and endemic species. National Biodiversity Programme, Windhoek, Namibia.
Simmons, R.E., O. Curtis, and A.R. Jenkins. 1998. Black Harrier
  conservation and ecology: preliminary findings 2000. Journal of African
  Raptor Biology 13:33-38.
Simmons, R.E., O. Curtis, and A.R. Jenkins. 2005. Black Harrier Circus
. Pp. 502-503 in P.A.R. Hockey, W.R.J. Dean, and P. Ryan (eds.),
  Roberts Birds of Southern Africa VII. Black Eagle Publishing, Cape Town,
  South Africa.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.
van der Merwe, F. 1981. Review of the status and biology of the Black
  Harrier. Ostrich 52:193-207.

Current Research: Sightings of color-ringed or wing-tagged Black Harriers in southern Africa should be reported to Rob Simmons at rob.simmons@uct.ac.za or 082-780-0133.

Sites of Interest:
Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
Conducts an investigation of the effects of land transformation on Black Harrier population status in the Cape region.
Black Harrier dispersal and habitat
Details on additional studies in South Africa by Natural Research
Black Harrier photos.

Curtis, Odette
Jenkins, Andrew
Scott, Don
Simmons, Rob

Last modified: 5/21/2014

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2022. Species account: Black Harrier Circus maurus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 27 Jan. 2022

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