Marsh harrier

Male marsh harrier

©David Tipling/2020VISION

Female marsh harrier

©Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

Marsh harrier

Scientific name: Circus aeruginosus
The courtship of the marsh harrier is certainly a sight to behold - wheeling and tumbling through the sky, male and female partners lock talons in mid-air. Look out for this rare bird over reedbeds in East Anglia, Somerset and the South East.

Species information


Length: 48-55cm
Wingspan: 1.2m
Weight: 540-670g
Average lifespan: 6 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

January to December


The marsh harrier nests in large reedbeds where it feeds on frogs, small mammals and birds, such as moorhen and coot. Once very rare, it has recently spread from its stronghold in East Anglia to other parts of the country where reedbed habitat is found. Although the marsh harrier is typically a migrant bird, arriving here to breed in April and leaving in October to winter in Africa, an increasing number are choosing to overwinter in the UK. 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 will lock talons mid-air.

How to identify

The largest of the harriers, the marsh harrier creates a distinctive V-shape in the air by holding its 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.


Found in East Anglia, South East England, the Somerset Levels, parts of North West England and parts of East Scotland including Loch Leven and Loch of Kinnordy

Did you know?

In 1971, after years of persecution and habitat loss, only one nesting female remained in the whole country. Today, after decades of conservation effort, there are nearly 400 pairs in the UK.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.