The Western Marsh-harrier is 43 to 54 cm in length, and has a wingspan of 115 to 130 cm and a weight of 400 to 650 g in males and 500 to 800 g in females. It is a large, bulky harrier with fairly broad wings, and has a strong and peculiar sexual dichromatism. The male's plumage is mostly a cryptic reddish-brown with lighter yellowish streaks, which are particularly prominent on the breast. The head and shoulders are mostly pale greyish-yellowish. The rectrices and the secondary and tertiary remiges are pure grey, the latter contrasting with the brown forewing and the black primary remiges at the wingtips. The upperside and underside of the wing look similar, though the brown is lighter on the underwing. Whether from the side or below, flying males appear characteristically three-colored brown-grey-black. The legs, feet, irides and the cere of the black bill are yellow.
The female is almost entirely chocolate-brown. The top of the head, the throat and the shoulders have of a conspicuously lighter yellowish colour; this can be clearly delimited and very contrasting, or (particularly in worn plumage) be more washed-out, resembling the male's head colors. But the eye area of the female is always darker, making the light eye stand out, while the male's head is altogether not very contrastingly colored and the female lacks the grey wing-patch and tail. Juveniles are similar to females, but usually have less yellow, particularly on the shoulders.
There is a rare hypermelanic morph with largely dark plumage. It is most often found in the east of the species' range. Juveniles of this morph may look entirely black in flight.
The start of the breeding season varies from mid-March to early May. Western Marsh-harrier males often pair with two and occasionally three females. Pair bonds usually last for a single breeding season, but some pairs remain together for several years.
The ground nest is made of sticks, reeds and grasses. It is usually built in a reedbed, but the species will also nest in arable fields. There are between three and eight eggs in a normal clutch. The eggs are oval in shape and white in colour, with a bluish or greenish tinge when recently laid. The eggs are incubated for 31–38 days and the young birds fledge after 35–40 days.
More ID Help
Bar tailed Godwit
Black tailed Godwit
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Some British Birds of Prey
Wader ID Help
The Barn Owl Trust
The Hawk and Owl Trust
Wildlife & Environmental Causes
All images appearing on this website and its content are the copyright of John S Betts. All rights reserved.