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African Marsh Harrier
Circus ranivorus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: African Marsh-harrier.

Circus ranivorus
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Distribution: Afrotropical. ZAIRE, UGANDA, and KENYA south to SOUTH AFRICA, ranging northeast to ETHIOPIA and SOMALIA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic. more....

Taxonomy: Sometimes merged with the Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus, but most molecular evidence indicates that it is most closely related to C. spilonotus (Simmons 2000). Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) confirmed that C. aeruginosus, C. spilonotus, C. approximans, C. maillardi, C. macrosceles, and this species form a monophyletic group, based on evidence from the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene.

Movements: Partial migrant (Bildstein 2006). Somewhat nomadic, as birds seek appropriate wet habitat. Simmons (1997) found that individuals can forage up to 200 km/day during the breeding season, and he mentioned a recovery of a ringed bird that had moved 1,000 km within its first year. Appears to be sedentary in the Kampala, Uganda area (Carswell et al. 2005). more....

Habitat and Habits: Confined mainly to wetlands, but also forages in adjacent open grasslands, agricultural lands, and even open woodland. Almost entirely absent from areas with less than 300 mm of rainfall, reflecting its preference for wetland habitats (Simmons 1997). It is confined to highland marshes in the northern part of its range (Snow 1978). Small wet spots of 1-2 ha in extent may be used for foraging, but larger wetlands are required for breeding. Most often seen coursing low over the ground like other harriers. Seen mostly in pairs or singly, but may roost in flocks of 10 or more (Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2006). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mainly on small rodents (70% of diet), but birds (mostly small species, but occasionally as large as ducks), frogs, and insects are also taken. Prey is captured after a sharp, twisting descent to the ground or after an aerial chase. May also take carrion, including dead fish, and is known to raid mixed heron and egret colonies and weaver nests to eat eggs and chicks (Simmon 2005). more....

Breeding: Breeding may occur any time of year, but is mostly from June-December in southern Africa, regardless of rainfall regime. The nest is a platform of vegetation, usually placed in a reedbed above water level in a marsh, but sometimes in short sedge areas and fynbos vegetation (Simmons 1997). Clutch size is 2-5 eggs (usually 3, but occasionally up to 6), which are white and usually unmarked. The incubation period is 32-34 days, and the nestling period is 38-40 days. Incubation begins with the first egg, leading to a size disparity among the nestlings that often results in the starvation of the youngest chick. more....

Conservation: Patchily distributed and declining in many portions of its range in West and southern Africa where wetlands are being destroyed. Inexplicably, this species does not occur in the vast areas of grassland, savanna, and scrub between Kenya and northwest Africa (Brown 1970). Categorized globally as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International, but it may prove to be much rarer in most of its range. more....

Important References: 
Brown, L. 1970. African birds of prey. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Cohen, C. 2000. African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus. Pp. 87-89 in K.N.
  Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and
  Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.C. 1994. African 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. African Marsh Harrier. Pp. 236-237 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.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Scott, Don
Simmons, Rob

Last modified: 5/31/2012

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 23 Jan. 2021

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