RSPB asks for help to track rare harriers as they make return to UK

Montagu's Harrier. Pic by Subramanya C K

Montagu's Harrier. Pic by Subramanya C K - Credit: Subramanya C K

Eagle-eyed bird fans are being asked to report their sightings of a rare species of harrier as it returns to the UK.

Montagu's harriers, the UK's rarest breeding birds of prey, have begun to arrive back in the country for the summer after spending the winter in Senegal.

Just seven pairs of the harrier nested in this country last year, and the RSPB is reaching out to the public to help keep track of the bird and identify where it nests this year.

One harrier, named Roger, is already known to have made a home in north Norfolk, having been fitted with a satellite-tracking device in 2014.

He is one of six Montagu's harriers to have been fitted with the tags, in order for scientists to track their migratory routes. Scientists hope that bird lovers will be attracted to its spectacular airborne courtship display, which takes place before they establish their nests and become more secretive.

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During the courtship, the male will climb high into the air and then fold his wings and tumble groundwards in a show of aerobatic prowess designed to impress. Once a pair has chosen a nest site the male will pass food to the female in mid-air, with one or both birds flying upside down momentarily to make the exchange. Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu's harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: 'A Montagu's harrier's display is spectacular and really special to witness.

'It's so important for these birds that we can find the places where they are nesting and protect them from accidental damage, disturbance and persecution.

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'Monty's are increasingly nesting in cropped arable fields rather than reedbeds, so we're especially keen to make farmers aware of them and hear from any who think they might have birds nesting in their fields, but anyone who sees one can help us make sure they have the best chance of successfully breeding and rearing their chicks by getting in touch to tell us about their sighting.'

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