The magnificent marsh harrier

During a day spent at RSPB Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast in June the bird sightings were many and varied but one of the undoubted highlights for me was a marsh harrier which made regular appearances throughout the day.


Here’s looking at you…
A marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus, Dansk – rørhøg) doing as the name suggest – harrying the marshes

The marsh harrier is one of our least numerous birds with around 400 females in the UK. According to the British trust for Ornithology it almost became extinct in the UK but has made a small recovery. It lives and breeds in reedbeds but during it’s recovery it has learnt to frequent farmland too. With the destruction of its normal habitat that adaptation may prove to be its saviour.

Marsh harriers hunt small mammals and birds and can be seen gliding over marshland and reedbeds with their wings in a characteristic shallow ‘V’ shape. It is restricted to East Anglia in the UK and its conservation status is Amber due to the declines seen in the past.

Despite its amber staus in the UK it is a species of least concern in the rest of Europe, which is good news. Hopefully a few more will find their way here to swell the UK population. They can mostly be seen here in nature reserves and the small number of locations where reedbeds and wetlands have not been drained.

One of the best reserves for harriers is Wicken Fen lying between Cambridge and Ely, and this is the only place where I’ve seen marsh harriers and hen harriers in the air at the same time. Wicken is owned by the National Trust and has a hundred year expansion plan which involves buying up the surrounding farmland as the soils becomes progressively downgraded and ultimately exhausted. So in around 100 years time it should be an enormous area of fen and home to large numbers of rare birds such as the harriers. So they may not be so rare then. Fingers crossed!

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17 responses to “The magnificent marsh harrier

  1. Enjoyed reading this piece on the wonderful raptor that is the marsh harrier. I personally feel so fortunate that i live in cambridge and it’s proximity to wicken fen means i can make regular visits there and the marsh harrier is often sighted although slightly less so in winter but today 11th January 2015 I saw a female harrier gliding effortlessly in the wind. A truly magnificent bird!

    • Hello Paul,

      I know what you mean, there are lots of great places around Cambridge. I regularly visit Wicken Fen, Burwell Fen, Tubney Fen, Fen Drayton, Ouse Fen (bit of a theme going on here!) and they’re all full of great wildlife. And I couldn’t agree more, a marsh harrier close up is an awe-inspiring site. Have you been in the Tower Hide at Wicken on a summer evening? The raptors can be absolutely spectacular at that time of the year.

  2. Pingback: Male harrier raises chicks on his own | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. The wing detail on that last shot is breathtaking, utterly beautiful! I’ve never seen these birds myself but your photos are marvellous.

  4. Beautiful shots of this bird!

  5. Another beautiful post, Finn. Your first two images are spectacular, and I especially like your composition in the first one. The eyes seem to be looking right into your soul!

    • Thanks Gary. It felt like that when I was looking at it through the lens, a strange but amazing experience! The same thing happened a couple of months ago with a barn owl, I was walking the dog and I saw the owl flying at 90 degrees to my path so I knelt down in some long grass and waited. It flew right over my head around 10 feet up and we eyeballed each other for a few seconds before it headed off. A special moment.

  6. Your discoveries and encounters with nature never fail to amaze me Finn! Captivating shots. Sharon

  7. Fantastic pictures there Finn!

  8. It’s a wonderful experience to come across a hawk on the wing.

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