The RSPB is calling on farmers and birdwatchers to help locate the UK’s rarest nesting bird of prey: the Montagu’s harrier.  The population of this beautiful bird of prey is down to fewer than a dozen pairs, most of which nest in crops.

The RSPB is appealing for sightings of the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey in an attempt to find and protect their nests, which are often hidden away in lowland crops and often only found at harvest time.

Montagu’s harriers return to the UK in late April after spending the winter in Africa. They breed almost entirely in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly choosing winter cereals, oilseed rape and grass silage. The core population often returns to the same nesting locations each year and RSPB has been working successfully with these farmers for over 30 years, protecting this species.

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier work for the RSPB, said: “Along with species like stone-curlews and corncrakes, farmers have been essential in conserving our tiny population of Montagu’s harriers and through this hotline we hope to locate additional pairs that may otherwise have been missed.” He added: “The UK population is currently teetering on the brink, and finding additional pairs will be a bonus. All reports will be treated in the strictest of confidence.

“We’re hopeful that farmers and birdwatchers who spot Montagu’s harriers will contacts us so we can confirm the sightings. We can offer free advice on how these sites can be protected to ensure these magnificent birds can successfully rear young.”

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 pale grey with black wing tips and the females largely brown with a white rump. They feed on mammals, small birds, reptiles and insects by quartering low over crops before dropping on their prey.

Anyone who thinks they may have seen a Montagu’s harrier is urged to contact the hotline on 01767 693398 or email Details should include the date and six digit grid reference, if possible, and a contact telephone number.


  • Steve

    You may have a slim chance of seeing one of these magnificent raptors in the south of England. The problem is, almost 100% of montagu’s harriers that travel northwards visiting the uplands are then shot on sight before they can migrate southwards for the winter. Sadly there is not much chance eityher of any inexperienced member of the public making a correct identification of this rare bird.

  • Paul Tresto

    If you are aware of the location of any harrier in an area close to grouse or pheasant shoots(montagu or hen)it is probably best to keep quiet. Experience in shooting areas shows that the RSPB and / or Natural England are not able to protect any birds of prey.

  • nirofo

    Tell them nothing, the less they know the better for the birds.

  • paul williams

    I had a fantastic day out today with my son. Peregrines on eggs or feeding young,Sparrow Hawk,Ravens and Buzzard.Sadly…:) not in the Forest of Bowland where most raptors have for some reason disappeared on each and every estate. I am informed only a single peregrine nest now remaining.

  • I know of a farm where these birds breed but the farmer won’t tell and I am sworn to secrecy, I agree keep it quiet they are already in enough danger.

  • tweedler

    It seems the best policy is to tell the RSPB nothing, they cannot be trusted with our birds of prey, they have proved that in the forest of bowland