Raptor Friday – The Montagu’s Harrier

Birds of the scrubland, harriers are unmistakable for their flight – close to the ground, with the wings held in a high-upstroke V, and the eyes directed downward looking intently for prey.

A male Montague’s Harrier on the hunt

I have seen Montague’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) frequently in and around Mysore but on most occasions, my sightings were of the plain, lacklustre female. It took me a trip to Kutch to see them in abundance. They were everywhere in the scrublands, along with Pallid (or Pale) Harriers (Circus macrourus). On our route to Dholavira (an Indus Valley archaeological site), our Tata Sumo was cruising at around 90 kph along the highway when a Montague’s Harrier flew across the road, dead in front. Realizing the danger to its life at the last instance, it fanned out its tail and spread its wings, braking in mid-air. It lost a couple of feathers in the process but managed to alter the flight direction and ascend a couple of feet in the air to safety. It was all over in a second or two. 

Another evening in Kutch, we saw nearly 40 of these birds flocking from the horizon towards the grasslands after the sun had set. There was absolutely no light for me to photograph them, so I sat and watched as they circled around and settled into the grass for the night, one by one. This was the first instance that I observed social behavior of this nature in any raptor.

Eye contact with a crescent of grace…

This year I had a couple of encounters with this species in Mysore. The closest was two weeks ago when the guy in your picture flew up from behind my friend’s parked car. I spotted him and fired away (he hadn’t yet seen me). Just behind the car our eyes met, and he braked in the air once more (not so violently as in Kutch), changed direction and flew off with effortless ease…

Underwing details

Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan


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