Eurasian marsh harrier, hen harrier and Montagu's harrier: More about Moscow’s birds of prey

June 10

Three species from the subfamily Circinae one can see in Moscow’s natural areas. All of them are listed in the Moscow Red Data Book and can be spotted very rarely, usually during their seasonal migrations.

All harriers share a similar body shape, the ability to glide over open ground while hunting, and a curious mating ritual where the male and female perform pirouettes in the air. Another interesting trait of the harrier is the way they pass food in the air. The male, carrying prey in his talons, will call to the female, who, as she comes near him, will somersault upside down, and the food is passed from his talons to hers in mid-air. After the nestlings appear, the parents pass food to one another in this way, at a distance from the nest. After receiving prey, the female makes several circles and then returns to feed her chicks, making it hard for other raptors to determine the location of the nest.

Read this article on harrier species that can be spotted in Moscow.

Eurasian marsh harrier

The Eurasian (or Western) marsh harrier is a large raptor, much larger than a crow. It has wider wings than other harriers and brownish-grey feathers. Males become lighter as they age, while females develop a yellowish cap and throat.

Eurasian marsh harriers build their nests in reedbeds near water bodies. They hunt small water birds and their fledglings, as well as amphibians and large insects. Marsh harriers are migratory birds.

Hen harrier

The hen harrier is slightly more graceful than the Eurasian marsh harrier. There is a difference in colour between the male and the female. Males are grey with black wing tips. The older the male, the lighter his plumage. Older males become almost white, hence the Russian saying about someone’s hair being “as white as a harrier.” Females and young birds are brown.

Hen harriers build nests on open areas with tall grass and uneven terrain. They hunt mouse-like rodents, some reptiles and large insects. These birds are migratory.

Montagu's harrier

The Montagu’s harrier is similar to the hen harrier in size and colour, but males of this species have distinctive black stripes on their wings.

Compared to other harriers, their flight is slower and smoother. In the spring, this species arrives a bit later than the others and usually returns to the previous nesting site.

They nest in tall grass, often among beds of nettles, in open areas. They hunt mouse-like rodents, some reptiles and large insects. They are also migratory.


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