The Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus is a migratory raptor species, which has a large distribution from the Iberian Peninsula to Western Mongolia and which winters in Africa and India. It is mainly a lowland species, however in certain regions occupies high plateaus up to 1500m. The distribution of this species in Romania is poorly known, but the breeding population is most likely well below 100 pairs.
One of the main conservation problem threatening the Montagu’s Harrier is the conversion of grasslands – its natural breeding habitat – to agricultural land, in this environment, crop harvesting by combine harvesters causes frequent breeding failure. Most of the Montagu’s Harrier chicks are far from fledging when the harvesting of cereal crops is about to begin.
One our colleagues from Hungary, Mr. Pál Marik, let us know a few days ago that he found several territories occupied by Montagu’s Harriers near Salonta, a town close to the Hungarian border. The presence of the species there has been known for years, but we never found so many pairs breeding so close one to another. Nevertheless breeding in scarce colonies is not an unusual habit of Montagu’s Harriers’. Most of the pairs from Salonta seem to use a wheat field for breeding, and it is at this time of year that harvesting begins.
We contacted the owner of the field, Róbert Erdei and he kindly accepted to delay the beginning of harvesting for a few days and to leave free the vicinity of the nests entirely. To let the farmer know where the nests are and to avoid the predation of chicks by foxes and other carnivores, we have started to delimit and fence in 3x3m perimeters around the nests.
Further investigations will follow in the next days to find as many active Montagu’s Harrier nests as possible, as we probably offer the only hope of survival these marvelous chicks have.