Black harrier

Black harrier

Black harrier

Circus maurus

The black harrier (Circus maurus ) is a medium-sized African harrier whose range extends from South Africa to Botswana and Namibia. It has a wingspan of 105–115 cm (41–45 in) and a body length of 44–50 cm (17–20 in). When perched, this bird appears all black. However, in flight a white rump and flight feathers become visible. Its morphology is comparable to that of other harriers, with a slim body, narrow wings and a long tail. Male and female plumages are similar. Juveniles have buff under-parts and heavily spotted breasts.



Biogeographical realms
Black harrier habitat map
Black harrier habitat map
Black harrier
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Habits and Lifestyle

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

The black harrier is a small mammal specialist which feed mostly on small rodents and birds and will occasionally take reptiles, catching them while flying low over its hunting grounds. The Four- striped Mouse, Rhabdomys pumilio, is the main prey. Regional differences in diet have also been recorded with a greater consumption of birds inland than at the coast Variation in diet is thought to be associated with local weather conditions. Early in September the diets are similar however, this then shifts with seasonal changes. Inland, during hot temperatures the proportion of small mammals in the harrier's diet declines, because the hotter temperatures reduce the activity of South African small mammals during the day. Higher temperatures may also lead to poorer environmental conditions for breeding resulting in a decreased abundance of small mammals. The breeding season of the four-striped mouse is only three months in the Karoo (where the inland black harriers are located) rather than six months as in the fynbos (where the coastal black harriers are located). In the Karoo, temperatures can reach almost 40 degrees Celsius during the day in summer. Whilst in coastal regions the proportion of small mammals in the diet increased with higher winter rainfall. This is because the winter rainfall promotes the reproduction of small mammals.

Mating Habits

The greatest number of breeding pairs can be found in the Western Cape province, South Africa. In this area loose colonies aggregate around coastal wetlands. Breeding in Namibia is suspected but not confirmed.

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Like other harriers it nests on the ground in tall vegetation. Egg laying takes place from June to November with peak laying months in July and September. Two to four eggs are laid and incubated for 35 days. In a recent study, brood size averaged 2.3 ± 1.1 (n = 61 broods) and fledged broods averaged 1.9 ± 1.2 (n = 53 broods). Egg hatchability (the proportion of viable eggs in fully incubated clutches) was 74% (n = 25 clutches), and the hatching success (the proportion of eggs that successfully become hatched young) was 63% (n = 48 clutches). A quarter of the nests were subject to nest predation both egg predation and nestling predation.

More evidence is needed but it may be that after a breeding year, black harriers take a 'Sabbatical year" in reproduction to recover from the physiological stress of breeding.

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1. Black harrier Wikipedia article -
2. Black harrier on The IUCN Red List site -

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