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International team fits satellite tags to keep tabs on UK's rarest raptors

Last modified: 28 July 2015

Female Montagu's harrier in flight

Nearly half the nesting attempts in the UK this year have been in Eastern England

Image: Graham Catley

Conservationists from the Netherlands and UK have teamed up to fit satellite tracking devices to three Montagu’s harriers in East Anglia this month, in an effort to learn more about the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey.

East Anglia is an extremely important region for Montagu’s harriers, with three out of just seven nesting attempts in the whole of the UK so far this year being recorded in the East of England.

Researchers from the Dutch “Montagu’s Harrier Foundation”, together with conservationists from the RSPB, fitted one male and two female Montagu’s harriers with the lightweight tracking devices, which will last for the lifetime of the birds and relay real time location data back to the team.

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: “This is an exciting and important application of satellite tracking technology that will help us to monitor their movements and locate their feeding areas to understand more about these harriers’ not just here in the UK, but in their wintering grounds in Africa and on their migratory journey in between.”

The first Montagu’s harrier fitted with a satellite tag in the UK, also called Mark, returned to nest in the exact same field this year in which he had been fitted with the device in 2014, but not before revealing the whereabouts of a UK breeding “Monty’s” wintering grounds in Senegal and Mauritania for the first time via his high-tech backpack.

Mark the harrier was named after the Sound Approach founder Mark Constantine, who has sponsored the satellite tagging of Montagu’s harriers in the UK. The birds tagged by researchers this year have been named Rowan, Rose and Roger- the male named after late Montagu’s harrier expert Roger Clarke.

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.

Earlier this summer, the RSPB opened a public hotline for people to report their sightings of Montagu’s harriers here in the UK.

“We’ve had dozens of reported sightings over the summer,” said Mark Thomas, “and one of them even lead to the discovery of a previously unknown pair, which is brilliant and shows what a valuable tool it is.”

The hotline will be open for the rest of the summer, as long as the harriers remain in the country, and the RSPB welcomes any sighting of Rowan, Rose and Roger, or any other Montagu’s harriers in East Anglia or around the country.

Any possible sightings of Montagu’s harrier can be reported to the hotline on 01767 693398 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.

At the end of the summer, when Rowan, Rose, Roger and the other satellite tagged Montagu’s harriers leave on the autumn migration, people will be able to follow their progress via a satellite tracking map on the RSPB website: 

Keep up-to-date with the latest from our Montagu’s harriers by following us on Twitter:  @UKmontagus

How you can help

Montagu's harriers are our rarest breeding birds of prey. We're following the migrations of two birds as they make their way to Africa for winter.

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