Spring Watch 2014 – Marsh Harriers In Focus

April 21, 2014 8:34 pm

The Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) is a large bird of prey species with a large range stretching throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. It is mainly migratory, breeding in the north of Europe and wintering in areas of Africa.

It is the largest and heaviest of all the harrier species, with a wingspan of 115-130cm.  The plumage of the male is striking, mostly brown with distinctive yellowish streaks which are prominent in the breast. The wings are pale grey with black tips. In contrast, the female is entirely dark brown with golden patches on the head and shoulders. 

This species typically inhabit wetland areas, and are known to nest in reedbeds and agricultural land.  The Marsh Harrier hunts from low flight over land and mostly catches prey on the ground, primarily hunting for small mammals and birds along with the occasional frog or reptile.  

They have a spectacular courtship display which involved the male flying at height in circles before falling close to the ground, performing an elaborate sequences of tumbles. On occasion, the female may join him, and the pair will lock talons and tumble through the air together.  When these birds breed, they will construct a nest which can measure up to 80cm in diameter, made of grass, reeds and sticks, and constructed on the ground.  The female will lay 3 to 8 eggs from late April, and when the chicks hatch, both parents will help to feed the chicks. 

The Marsh Harrier is a common migrant here in Malta, both in the spring and the autumn. We are beginning to see a large influx of these birds this spring, with sizeable groups roosting in the night.   

And of those we are seeing, a substantial proportion have been seen with wing damage, possibly caused by gunshots.  An incident just last night saw a roosting group of harriers being targeted with illegal gunfire.  

These are spectacular birds of prey.  Seeing these birds arrive in the spring should be something to celebrate, not something to fear. 

Photos by Ray Galea, Lawrie Phipps and Roger Lucken.  Video by Ella Beeson


BirdLife Malta has been campaigning against illegal and unsustainable bird hunting on the Maltese islands for more than 50 years. If it was not for all of our work, we would not have reached the point we are at now, with the vast majority of people on Malta wanting to see spring hunting ended. Now is the time to turn that dream in to reality.
There are several ways you can help us:
  • You can help our campaign at a political level: click here to write to your MEP and ask them to support this urgent call for action to stop spring hunting in Malta.
  • Join BirdLife Malta to support our work for birds and nature in the Maltese Islands. As a member you will receive our regular members’ magazine, Bird’s Eye View, and email updates about our work. Your membership fee will help to make sure we can continue fight for birds and nature.
  • Make a donation towards our Stop Spring Hunting Campaign at http://igg.me/at/stopspringhunting  You can also help spread the word about our campaign – share this page and our video about spring hunting through Facebook and Twitter – please ask your friends and family to share and donate to our campaign if they can. #stopspringhunting

By working together we can end spring hunting on Malta forever.

The League Against Cruel Sports have been supporting Spring Watch and Raptor Camp for a number of years.  Security for this camp has been paid for by Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt,  ensuring the safety of our volunteers.