16:27 Thursday 12 May 2016
Montagu’s harriers, the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey, have started arriving back in the country for the summer after spending the winter months in tropical Senegal in West Africa, and the RSPB is asking the public to report any sightings of the birds to help identify new areas where they might be nesting.
Just seven pairs of Montagu’s harriers, known affectionately by bird watchers as ‘Monty’s’, nested in the whole of the UK last year. This is one fewer than in 2014, but scientists studying the birds hope that with the help of farmers, birdwatchers and people out enjoying the countryside, they can find more new Montagu’s harrier nesting sites this year.
Right now is the best time to see Montagu’s harriers as they engage in their spectacular airborne courtship display before they establish their nests and become more secretive. During the courtship, males 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.
“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.”