Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Marsh Harrier

The English name Harrier is derived from the Old English hergian, meaning "to harrass by hostile attacks". The scientific name is derived from the Greek kirkos meaning circle, referring to the harriers' habit of flying in circles. Aeruginosus is Latin for "rusty coloured".

Until recently, often more simply known as the Marsh Harrier. At the time it was considered that there were two subspecies - the Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus aeruginosus) & the Eastern Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus spilonotus), the latter found mainly in Asia. The Eastern Marsh Harrier has been reclassified & is now treated as a distinct species, (Circus spilonotus).

Marsh Harriers live in large and dense reedbeds around lakes, marshes & rivers with a strong preference for shallow waters with dense vegetation. They are mainly ground nesting.

Marsh harriers are unusual in diurnal raptors in that they have very good hearing with something of a facial disc similar to the owls. They fly with head pointing downwards, using both sight & sound to locate prey (this occasionally results in injury when they hit things in front of themselves). The facial disc is used to enhance the ability to hear the prey in long grass or rushes, rather than as an aid to hunting in low light conditions.

The Marsh Harrier became extinct in this country prior to the start of the 20th century from a combination of illegal killing, egg collection & drainage of the reedbed nesting sites. With help & encouragement, from the 1920's a small population was restored & started breeding. Unfortunately, in 50's & 60's due to widespread use of organochloride pesticides (e.g. DDT) the population was decimated again, leaving 1 recorded breeding pair in 1971. Since then the population has increased to around 125-150 breeding pairs in 1997, (mostly in East Anglia), consisting of mainly migrant birds from Holland. Currently, still under threat by illegal killing,habitat loss from land-drainage & disturbance from increased use of nesting sites for recreation. There is some evidence that Marsh Harriers are adapting to the poor traditional habitat situation & now nesting on arable land. The Marsh Harrier, along with the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) & Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus), is a species protected by special penalties in the UK. If kept in captivity, it is a legal requirement for them to be ringed & registered.

Marsh Harriers predominantly prey on marsh birds and mammals. They will eat birds' eggs, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish and insects. A Marsh Harrier has been observed drowning its prey, after capturing it on the water, it sat on its prey, almost chest height in water itself, until it was dead. It actually took the prey out of the water once or twice to check that it was dead. Marsh Harriers are prone to having food stolen from them by eagles & other large raptors, including other Marsh Harriers.

The oldest Marsh Harrier on record from a European ringing study was 20yrs 1month old.

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

Also Called :

Marsh Harrier
Northern Marsh Harrier
Marsh Hawk
Swamp Hawk
Duck Hawk
Snipe Hawk
Brown Hawk
Moor Hawk
Moor Buzzard
Bald Buzzard
Dun Pickle
White-headed Harpy (harpy derives from the Greek "arpyia", meaning to seize or snatch)
Puttock (use for Marsh Harrier is believed to be incorrect, correctly used for Kite & Buzzard)
Kite (historically)
Bod y gwerni
Bod y wern
Bog Gled (Gled being Gaelic for Hawk or Kite, perhaps from "gliding")
Scottish Clamhan loin
Cromán mona
Préachán na gcrearc
Catalan Arpella vulgar
Danish Rørhøg
Dutch Bruine kiekendief
Esperanto Mar^ca cirkuo
Estonian Roo-loorkull
Færoese Blotaheykur
Finnish Ruskosuohaukka
Busard des marais (Marsh Buzzard)
Busard des Roseaux (Reed Buzzard)
Busard Harpaye (Harpy Buzzard)
German Rohrweihe
Greek Καλαμόκιρκος
Hungarian Barna rétihéja
Icelandic Brúnheiðir
Italian Falco di palude (Swamp Falcon)
Latvian Niedru Lija
Lithuanian Nendrinė Lingė
Norwegian Sivhauk
Polish Błotniak stawowy
Portuguese Tartaranhão-ruivo-dos-paúis
Romanian Herete de stuf
Болотный Лунь (Bolotny Lun)
Камышовый Лунь (Kamyshovy Lun)
Aguilucho Lagunero Occidental
Aguilucho lagunero (Swamp Eaglet)
Swedish Brun kärrhök

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