What happens in a marsh harrier food-pass?

Crick-necked and open-mouthed, you’ll never forget your first marsh harrier food-pass. High over the reedbed, two dots soar in the April sunshine. They circle each other, then suddenly the upper bird, a male, drops his prey.

The food is ‘fielded’ deftly by the female below him, who performs a mid-air roll to seize it in her talons. This display is accompanied by sky-dancing – dramatic twisting plunges and slow-motion flapping.

As you watch this unforgettable wildlife spectacle, savour the fact that it is once again a regular sight in Britain. Not so long ago, the marsh harrier was our rarest breeding bird – pesticide use and persecution had reduced its population to a single pair by the early 1970s – but in these more enlightened times, the UK has about 450 breeding females.

Where do marsh harrier live in the UK?

Most of Britain’s marsh harriers nest in large reedbeds in the east of England, but they are quickly colonising other parts of the country – there are promising numbers on the Somerset Levels, for example. Head to any of the reserves listed here and you stand a good chance of seeing the birds’ courtship. Watch from a hide or viewing area at a safe distance – the birds are easily disturbed.

More like this

The best places to see marsh harriers performing a food pass in the UK

  1. Tay Estuary, Perthshire
  2. RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire, England.
  3. RSPB Blacktoft Sands, East Yorkshire, England.
  4. RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk, England.
  5. Cley Marshes, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, England.
  6. RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk, England.
  7. RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Norfolk, England.
  8. Avalon Marshes, Somerset, England.
  9. Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, England.
  10. RSPB Cors Ddyga, Anglesey, Wales.

Main image: © Getty Images