May is one of my favourite months of the year - spring is in full swing, 50% of the weekends have an extra day in them, and the days are getting noticeably warmer and longer. For wildlife-friendly farmers, it's a great opportunity to see and hear the benefits of their hard work as birds start to breed and take advantage of the habitat and food resources that their careful management provides.
Skylark: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
For one group of walkers in Cambridgeshire, the opportunity to have a wander around one such farm was too good an opportunity to miss....
RSPB's Gemma Wells tells us more in this article in the Cambridge News
Montagu’s harriers, the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey, have started arriving back in the country for the summer after spending the winter months in tropical Senegal in West Africa, and the RSPB is asking farmers and members of the public to report any sightings of the birds to help identify new areas where they might be nesting.
Image: Roger Wyatt
Just seven pairs of Montagu’s harriers, known affectionately by bird watchers as ‘Monty’s’, nested in the whole of the UK last year. This is one fewer than in 2014, but scientists studying the birds hope that with the help of farmers, birdwatchers and people out enjoying the countryside, they can find more new Montagu’s harrier nesting sites this year.
Right now is the best time to see Montagu’s harriers as they engage in their spectacular airborne courtship display before they establish their nests and become more secretive. During the courtship, males will climb high into the air and then fold his wings and tumble groundwards in a show of aerobatic prowess designed to impress. Once a pair has chosen a nest site the male will pass food to the female in mid-air, with one or both birds flying upside down momentarily to make the exchange.
Image: Graham Catley
Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: “A Montagu’s harrier’s display is spectacular and really special to witness. It’s so important for these birds that we can find the places where they are nesting and protect them from accidental damage, disturbance and persecution.
“Monty’s are increasingly nesting in cropped arable fields rather than reedbeds, so we’re especially keen to make farmers aware of them and hear from any who think they might have birds nesting in their fields, but anyone who sees one can help us make sure they have the best chance of successfully breeding and rearing their chicks by getting in touch to tell us about their sighting.”
If you have seen a Montagu's harrier, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, the RSPB celebrates 50 years of giving nature a home on the Balranald reserve in North Uist. Bringing together an important partnership between crofting and conservation, read more from RSPB Scotland's Stuart Taylor here
Machair habitat on RSPB Balranald (image: Chris Gomersall, rspb-images.com)