The largest of the harriers, it can be recognised by its long tail and light flight with wings held in a shallow ‘V’. It is distinguishable from other harriers by its larger size, heavier build, broader wings and absence of white on the rump. Females are larger than males and have obvious creamy heads. Its future in the UK is now more secure than at any time during the last century but historical declines and subsequent recovery means it is an Amber List species.
Marsh Harriers became extinct in Britain around 1900. Recolonisation occurred in the 1920’s, but numbers fell again, and by 1971 just one pair remained at Minsmere, Suffolk. A recovery since then now sees around 450 pairs, mainly in the south and east of England. In Gloucestershire they occur only as migrants, our nearest breeding birds probably being in Somerset. Marsh Harriers have been seen in all months except December, but the great majority have been in April, May and August, especially around Slimbridge and Frampton. The remainder are equally divided between the Severn Hams, the Cotswold Water Park and elsewhere. The county probably does not currently hold a wetland with a large enough reed-bed for Marsh Harriers to breed, though this may change.
Size, habitat and diet
Weight: M: 540g F:670g
Habitat: Marsh and reedbeds
World distribution: Breeds: W Europe to central Asia and N Africa. Winters: South to central Africa and S Asia
Diet: Animals from ground, especially in marshy areas, preference for easily caught prey
Marsh Harrier hunting (Marko Valk)