Tracking Montagu's harriers
Montagu's harriers are the rarest breeding bird of prey in the UK, with just five nests in 2016.
About the project
Montagu's harriers are migratory, spending just a few months of the year on their breeding grounds and wintering in sub-Saharan West Africa.
Many of our migrant birds are in trouble – UK breeding populations of long-distance, trans-Saharan migrant birds have declined sharply since the 1970s.
By protecting migratory birds during their whole lifecycle in the UK, Europe and Africa – on their breeding grounds, during migration and on their wintering grounds – we can help prevent the loss of our summer migrants, including Montagu's harriers. In order to protect Montagu's harriers during migration and on their wintering grounds we first need to understand how and where they migrate and where our birds spend winter. This information, supported by more research in the UK and West Africa, is crucial to developing a plan to help Montagu's harriers in all parts of their range.
The project, licensed by the BTO, will provide detailed information on the daily movements, migration routes and wintering locations for each bird. When the birds return to Europe we are now able to locate their breeding sites and monitor nesting success. Although the breeding locations are not shared publicly, updates will be provided.
This nomadic species currently breeds on agricultural land in three locations in the UK, and widely across Europe, from Spain to Belarus. But the survival of the UK population is dependent on positive partnerships between farmers and conservationists.
The UK breeding population has always been small and prone to fluctuations in success, as elsewhere across the European range but recently has dropped to only five pairs. The RSPB and its partners have been protecting UK Montagu's harrier nests since 1982.
In order to understand the factors that control our small population and to protect Montagu's harriers during migration and on their wintering grounds, we also need to understand how and where they migrate and where our birds winter. This information, supported by research in the UK and West Africa, is crucial to developing a plan to help Montagu's harriers in all parts of their range, including the UK.
Satellite tagging provides these answers. The project, licensed by the BTO, will provide detailed information on the daily movements, migration routes and wintering locations for each bird.
Between 2014 and 2016, experts from the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation fitted nine adult Montagu’s harriers with small, lightweight satellite tags in the UK.
The tags have been funded by The Sound Approach.
Three new birds were satellite tagged in July 2016; two adults in South West England and another adult in Norfolk.
Being on the extreme NW edge of their European range Montagu’s harriers have never been common in the UK, but this beautiful raptor deserves all our help to ensure it clings on as a UK breeder. Find out more about Monty.
Our harriers in Africa
What happened to Mark and Madge, the Montagu's harriers we tracked on their migration from the UK to Africa? Ben Koks and Almut Schlaich, from the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation, have exciting news... Find out more about our harriers in Africa.
Female Montagu’s harriers do all the incubation with the male bringing in food, which is passed between the birds often in spectacular food passes
Beatrice is an adult female Montagu’s harrier that was tagged in July 2016 in South West England. She was paired with tagged bird Mark (see below) in 2016 and they raised three youngsters.
Sally is an adult female Montagu’s harrier that was tagged in July 2016 in Norfolk. The tagging was filmed as part of BBC Winterwatch and she was released by presenter Martin Hughes-Games. She was paired with tagged bird Roger (see below) in 2016 and they raised two youngsters.
She began her autumn migration on 14th August when she roosted overnight in Kent, she then travelled through France and Spain and crossed the Mediterranean from Almeria to Morocco on 28th August. She completed her first stage of migration in Mali on 8th September. On 24th November she started her migration again and surprised everyone by going as far south as the Ivory Coast, then on to Ghana!
Roger is an adult male, named after the late Roger Clarke who devoted his life to the species. Amazingly, Roger paired with three female Montagu's harriers in 2015. In 2016 Roger was paired with Sally and raised two juveniles. Roger winters in Senegal and migrates via Gibraltar.
Mark is a seven-year-old adult male who was tagged in the South West in 2014 and returned to nest at the same site in 2015 and 2016.
He didn't breed in 2014, instead attaching himself to another pair of Montagu's harriers who had four youngsters, regularly providing food for the next. This behaviour, called polyandry, is unusual and had never previously been exhibited by a Montagu's harrier in the UK.
In 2015 Mark raised three juveniles.
In 2016 Mark was paired with two females including Beatrice and raised a total of six juveniles.
Mark has wintered in Senegal for the past three winters, migrating via the Atlas Mountains.
Mark is named after Mark Constantine, who kindly sponsored this tag.
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