RSPB opens hotline to locate the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey

The RSPB is encouraging farmers, birdwatchers and walkers to keep a look out for Montagu’s harriers, the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey, as they begin this year’s breeding season.

In 2016, five pairs of Montagu’s harrier are known to have nested in England (in Norfolk and SW England). It is essential that the small number of breeding attempts made this year are identified and protected from accidental damage, disturbance or persecution to give these magnificent birds the best possible chance.

Data from tracked individuals has shown that these special birds spend the winter in Senegal, West Africa. In 2014, an adult male Montagu’s harrier, named Mark, was tagged in South West England allowing the RSPB to follow the migration route these birds of prey take for the first time.

The core population of Montagu’s harrier usually returns to the same nesting areas each year. The RSPB has been working successfully with these landowners for more than 30 years; however, it is important that any new or unknown nests are located.

Montagu’s harrier arrive in the UK around May time to nest, before returning to Africa in August. It is possible to spot the breathtaking birds of prey on passage, particularly on the south and eastern coasts of England.

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: “Farmers and birdwatchers can really help with the conservation of this threatened species. Now is the best time to witness the adults’ airborne courtship before they establish their crop nests and become difficult to spot. If you are fortunate enough to see these breathtaking birds then please contact the hotline to let us know.”

Montagu’s harriers are striking birds – they are larger than a kestrel with long wings and a long tail giving them a slender appearance. The males are plain grey, with black wingtips and a white underside. The females are mottled brown with a white rump.

They breed in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly winter cereals, oilseed rape and field silage.

Any possible sightings of Montagu’s harrier can be reported to the hotline on 01767 693690 or emailed to Details should include the date, six digit grid reference if possible and a contact telephone number. All reports to the hotline will be treated in the strictest of confidence.