Marsh Harrier

Circus aeruginosus


Marsh harriers nest in large reedbeds where they feed on frogs, small mammals and birds, such as moorhen and coot. Once very rare, they have recently spread from their stronghold in East Anglia to other parts of the country where large reedbeds are found. Marsh Harriers are migrant birds, arriving here to breed in April with most leaving in September and October to winter in Africa. During the breeding season, males perform amazing courtship displays, wheeling at great heights then diving towards the ground while performing a series of tumbles; sometimes the female will join him and they'll lock talons mid-air.

How to identify

The largest of the harriers, marsh harriers create a distinctive V-shape in the air by holding their wings up. Females are chocolate-brown with a golden-yellow crown and throat. Males have a brown back, gingery belly, pale head and neck and long grey wings with black tips.

Where to find it

Nests in East Anglia, South East England, the Somerset Levels and parts of North West England.


When to find it

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October

How can people help

Marsh harriers were severely persecuted in the past for taking game species. Coupled with widespread damage to their wetland habitats, they suffered massive declines in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thankfully, numbers of this beautiful species are beginning to increase gain. To ensure they have continued success, The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife-friendly practices. We are working towards a 'Living Landscape': a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country which are good for both wildlife and people. You can support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Marsh Harrier
Latin name
Circus aeruginosus
Birds of prey
Length: 48-55cm Wingspan: 1.2m Weight: 540-670g Average Lifespan: 6 years
Conservation status
Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.