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Photographing The Montagu's Harrier

Here are some top tips and information from Eschenbach on photographing the Montagu's harrier.

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Montagu's Harrier

The Montagu’s harrier often builds its nest in fields and pastures. However, there is no need get in the fields to observe them; in April, the male harriers perform their courtship display under the blue sky where anyone can observe them easily.


The Montagu’s harrier is 40 to 50 cm long and can reach the weight of a wild pigeon. It is a thin and light raptor, elegant and beautiful. Males differ greatly from females (this phenomenon is called dimorphism). Adult males are silver-gray with a blue tint, their wings have black spots and black tips. The lower abdominal region is white with copper spots. One of the most striking details is the piercing eyes with yellow irises. The legs and feet are orange and clearly visible. Adult females have a uniform dark brown color on the head, neck and back, the rump is white. The chest and belly are brighter and have a brown speckled color. The area around the eyes is white. The juveniles are rather similar to the females but their upper part has a coppery color. The bill is hooked, rather small and mostly black.



The breeding area of the Montagu’s harrier is very large. It stretches over much of Europe, from Portugal to France and from Germany to Eastern Europe and Central Siberia. They can also be found in southern Great Britain and Sweden. Montagu’s harriers are long distance migrants; in mid-August, they fly to their wintering areas in Asia and Africa. Their routes have been monitored in recent years using satellite transmitters, which have shown that birds do not always approach their targeted wintering quarters but often spend a few days in the southern region of Europe or sometimes fly in the wrong direction. In Germany there are about 400 pairs of Montagu’s Harriers, most of which are in the Bavarian region.


Bird Watching Tips

Just after their return in April, the male harriers begin their impressive nuptial parades. They perform various aerobatic figures in order to attract the females. Their courtship displays are accompanied by bold and strong cries. The Montagu’s Harrier purely breeds on land and used to live in marshes, open green areas and wet meadows. Nowadays, they often nest in fields and pastures, mostly cereal crops. In early spring, they have no problem protecting their nests but when summer approaches, when the farmers start harvesting their fields, most of the chicks are not yet able to fly and are killed in the process. Bird protection organisations try to help by finding nests and marking them so that farmers can avoid them when harvesting.

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