There is something so magical about the flight of the Black Harrier (Circus maurus) as it swoops over the fynbos silently hunting. The feathers are deep black with large white panels on the under wing and white bars on the tail feathers, that occasionally catch your eye as it glides over low growing fynbos.
According to BirdLife South Africa, there are “fewer than 1000 mature breeding birds left in the population. Studies have shown that there is little genetic variation across the population, indicating that this species is not in good shape and needs some serious conservation assistance going forward.”
Last week Dr Megan Murgatroyd from Hawkwatch International with assistance from Dr Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras (who has done her PhD on Black Harriers through her study of 400 nests over 15 years) visited Gondwana and initiated the study of Gondwana’s Black Harrier population.
Gondwana is home to a number of breeding pairs that nest in various locations on the reserve. During their visit the researchers, tagged a breeding pair with a GPS “backpack” and ringed the raptors on the top plains of Gondwana. This will assist us to learn more about their flight habits and breeding patterns in the region. Measurements were taken of their beaks, talons wings and tail. During the process the two researchers were pleased to encounter various juvenile fledglings in the same area.
Black Harriers have special characteristic features and behaviours. The females sit predominantly on the eggs while the males hunt. The males bring the food close to the nest and then exchange the food to the female in flight just above the nesting area – talon to talon. The females have a naked patch of skin on their chests called the brood patch used to keep the eggs warm. They feed on mice and birds, and breed on the ground, exclusively in low growing fynbos and renosterveld areas.
We look forward to having Dr Megan Murgatroyd & Dr Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras back on the reserve as they further their research on the Black Harriers in the months to come.
The fynbos would not be the same without its own endemic raptor and the Black Harrier certainly claims that title majestically.
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