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UK's rarest bird of prey nests at RSPB Blacktoft Sands

Last modified: 22 June 2015

Male Montagu's harrier flying

Image: Graham Catley

A pair of the UK’s rarest birds of prey have chosen RSPB Blacktoft Sands on the Humber to raise a family.

The Montagu’s harriers, which are nesting in the reedbed of the wetland nature reserve, are one of only a handful of pairs in the UK.

These migratory birds of prey spend the winter in West Africa and then travel to mainland Europe for the breeding season. However, fewer than ten pairs make it as far as England and these are normally confined to East Anglia and the South West.

The birds at RSPB Blacktoft are the only Montagu’s harriers nesting in Northern England. This is the second consecutive year that the species has nested on the Humber, with a pair last year raising a single chick in a reedbed near Blacktoft. While the Blacktoft nest is inaccessible, RSPB staff believe that at least one chick has hatched after noticing a change in the feeding behaviour of the adult female.

Montagu’s harriers are elegant and agile birds; the ghostly grey male is famed for its spectacular courtship display known as skydancing, which involves a series of high speed-dives and somersaults. 

The rarity of the birds makes the nest a prime target for egg collectors so RSPB staff and local birders are guarding it around the clock.

Pete Short, RSPB Humber Sites Manager, said: “All of the team at Blacktoft feel privileged to have these amazing birds nesting on the reserve and also feel a great sense of responsibility to ensure we give them the best chance of raising their chicks successfully. Protecting the nests 24/7 has meant a lot of early morning starts and late finishes but the birds are worth all of the effort.

“The Humber has long been recognised as one of Europe’s very best places for wildlife and the Montagu’s have made it even more special for nature.”   

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