Raptor Friday – Eurasian Marsh Harrier

Why are male Eurasian Marsh Harriers so hard to come by in winter?

A juvenile, banking in flight

With early winter the wetlands of India become the haunt of a chocolate-brown raptor, some individuals showing an odd facial coloration as if affected by leucoderma. This, to the uninitiated, is the Eurasian Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), also known as the Western Marsh Harrier.

A closer look at a juvenile
I have often seen this bird in wetlands, sailing above the reeds, eyes fixed below, concentrating on the happenings in the reeds. It hovers momentarily above spots where prey is spotted, and makes a dive towards the target.  This behaviour, which appeared to some observers that the bird was in search of something it had lost, earned it the name Kari thappi – Malayalam for “one who is searching for coal”. 

A juvenile conducts a thorough search over a swamp
Juveniles exhibit a chocolate-brown body, brown eyes and a bleached throat and crown. As the bird ages its plumage darkens and the underwings develop white bases to the primary flight feathers. The eyes start to turn yellow. Females, though, take longer to develop this jaundiced-eye look but compensate with their larger size.  

In males the proportional contrast between the wingtips and the rest of the wing is extensive, offering one of the best identification characteristics for this bird while it is in flight. I have seen juveniles and females aplenty, but never an adult male.

Adult female in flight

This winter, however, I didn’t spot a single Marsh Harrier. I’m not sure what made them skip their regular haunts. Perhaps they were dissuaded by the disturbance of their habitats around Mysore thanks to the widening of the Outer Ring Road. Or maybe it was because the rainy season was late and prolonged. Whatever be the case,  I can’t wait for winter. This time I’ll scour every possible field to sight a male.

Text and photos: Sandeep Somasekharan
All rights reserved



  • Sandy

    Sandeep Somasekharan (or Sandy as friends call him) took his headlong plunge into photography with a three-megapixel Nikon point-and-shoot he purchased in 2003. The avid reader and an occasional scribbler started enjoying travel and nature more as he spent more time photographing. Meeting Beej in 2008 helped him channel his creative energies in the form of essays and nature photographs that he started publishing on the Green Ogre. Sandy loves to photograph birds and landscapes, and considers photography and writing as his meditation. He is an engineer by education, IT professional by vocation, and a hopeless dreamer since creation.

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