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Marsh Harrier

Once an occassional winter visitor to Dorset but now a species nesting in the county

Photograph by: 
Mark Wright

Marsh Harrier: hurray for the harrier

There is so much bad news surrounding birds of prey these days with their persecution on grouse moors and pheasant shoots in Britain so some good news is always welcome and the marsh harrier is one species that can provide that; at least in Dorset anyway. In recent years it was become well established in Dorset and now breeds here but here it is under the protection of the RSPB so they should be safe. Marsh harriers are such a beautiful creatures I just do not understand how anyone could harm them but, of course, where big money is involved emotion goes out of the window and greed takes its place. I had better stop there!

The marsh harrier is closely associated with reed beds where it finds its prey and a look at the distribution map of reports shows this relationship quite clearly with clusters of sightings around Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour and Radipole/Lodmoor in Weymouth and at each of those sites there are, indeed, extensive reed beds; there is plenty of suitable habitat for them here in Dorset.

The weekly reports chart shows that not a week goes by during the year without a report of a marsh harrier somewhere in Dorset and the frequency seems quite erratic but there is a tendency to more records in spring and autumn so there are some migratory influences at work. The summer birds are a pair (or may be more now) that nest at the RSPB reserve at Radipole Lake but numbers definitely increase in autumn with more records then coming from Poole and Christchurch harbours. Some sightings are reported from elsewhere and these are probably passage migrants.

The most records are from Lytchett Bay in Poole harbour and this is partly because this is site that is watched almost daily by some dedicated volunteers but Radipole and neighbouring Lodmoor in Weymouth are where they are most likely to be seen and the best place to head to if you want to see them.



Common Name Marsh Harrier
Scientific Name Circus aeruginosus
Species Group Birds Raptors
Status Local
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A large bird gliding over reed beds looking for prey

Identification Notes
  • Now a breeding species in Dorset having succesfully raised young in a couple of locations
  • Numbers increase during the winter month with incoming migrant birds from further north
  • Associated with reed beds they can be seen flying low over the reeds looking for prey 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Raptors