The Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) is the largest harrier found in the UK, the population is at its highest for 100 years, but still low and very localised. Since its recovery the Marsh Harrier has adapted its behaviour, with individuals wintering in the UK and breeding on farmland as well as traditional reedbed habitats. Marsh Harriers can be found in large numbers at the Hawk and Owl Trust’s, Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Resrve in North Norfolk.
Slightly larger than a Buzzard, Marsh Harriers can be distinguished by their longer tail, slimmer body and narrower wings. Females are dark brown with a distinctive cream coloured crown and pale patches on the forewing and throat. Males have dark wing tips and grey tail, the breast and head appear yellowish with a brown belly, the upperwing is a combination of black, grey and brown. Juveniles are dark brown with a golden crown and throat and a pale leading edge to the wing.
Length: 47-57cm; wingspan: 115-140cm
Breeding Originally nesting on the ground in reedbeds, Marsh Harriers also nest in crops. Breeding pairs carry out impressive displays of aerobatics, tumbling through the air with the male dropping food for the female to catch in mid-air.
Females have a single clutch of 4-5 eggs and start to breed at 3 years of age. Males are not monogamous and will sometimes mate with 2 or 3 different females.
Feeding Marsh Harriers feed on small mammas and birds, preferring prey that is easier to catch. They will also take reptiles, insects and carrion.
Habitat and Distribution Mainly found in areas of reedbed, although as mentioned they also now frequent and breed on farmland. Main populations are in Norfolk, Kent, Lincolnshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Southern Scotland.