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Circus aeruginosus

warning Regionally Extinct

The Western Marsh-harrier is classified as Regionally Extinct (RE). It became extinct after the drainage of the Hula Lake and its marshes in the 1950s. Since then only one known nesting attempt was observed in Israel (Kfar Barukh Reservoir in 1982; Shirihai 1996) (although the species is still a common passage migrant and winter visitor). In the previous edition of the Red Book (2002), it was classified as Regionally Extinct (RE). A few individuals have been seen in recent years in the summer months in the Northern Valleys, which raises the possibility of its returning to nest in Israel naturally.
RE Current Regional Assessment | RE Previous Regional Assessment | LC World Assessment

Habitats Wetland Thickets, Humid Lowlands
Presence In Israel Resident
Nesting In Israel Past Breeder
Migration Types Resident
Zoography Zones Mediterranean
Landscape Formations Plains & Valleys, Swamps, Wetlands, Freshwater Bodies
Vegetation Formations Wetland Thickets
Vegetation Densities Medium, High
Nest Locations Wetland Thickets
Diet Types Vertebrate, Fish
Foraging Grounds Ground
Body Sizes Medium (500 - 1000g)
Threat Factors Pesticide Poisoning, Wetland Drainage & Pollution

The Western Marsh-harrier is the largest and most common of the four harrier species found in Israel. It displays prominent sexual dimorphism: the male is smaller and paler and its wings are bluish-grey, and the female is dark brown with yellowish head and shoulders. Most of the observations in Israel are of females and juveniles. It hunts by gliding and hovering at low altitudes over meadows and at the edges of water bodies, to prey on small birds and rodents that are its main food source.

About 15 pairs of Western Marsh-harriers nested in the Hula Valley up to 1953, and a single pair bred in the Yavne area in 1918. When the Hula was drained, the breeding population became extinct. A few individuals, mainly juveniles, were seen in the 1980s during the summer months in the Northern Valleys and the Golan Heights, and one pair apparently bred in the Kfar Barukh Reservoir in 1982 (Shirihai 1996).

The Western Marsh-harrier nests in marshes, lakes and streams with extensive bank vegetation thickets. In Israel, it is found in areas of wetlands, fishponds and reservoirs.

The main extinction factors were:
Habitat destruction – the drainage and destruction of marshes and wetlands and the drainage of the Hula marshes in particular.
Pesticides – like most birds of prey, the Western Marsh-harrier was also hurt by secondary poisoning of rodents and other seedeaters, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Western Marsh-harrier became extinct as a breeder in Israel during the second half of the 20th century, following the drainage of the Hula marshes and other water bodies in the Northern Valleys along with secondary poisoning by agricultural pesticides. The probability of the species returning to breed in Israel naturally and without directed management is estimated at low to middling.

Expanding marsh thickets in the Northern Valleys and in the Hula Valley in particular, would increase the probability that the species will return to breed in Israel naturally.

  • הצופה, א. ומירוז, א. 2015. תכנית אב לשימור העופות הדורסים בישראל. מסמך פנימי של רשות הטבע והגנים.
  • פז, ע. 1986. עופות. מתוך אלון, ע. (עורך), החי והצומח של ארץ ישראל. כרך 6. הוצאת משרד הביטחון, ישראל.
  • Mendelssohn, H. 1972. The impact of pesticides on bird life in Israel. ICBP 11:75-104.
  • Mendelssohn, H. 1975. Report on the Status of Some Bird Species in Israel in 1974. I.C.B.P. 12:265-270.
  • Shirihai, H., 1996. The Birds of Israel. Academic Press, London.
  • Symes, A. 2013. Species generation lengths. Unpublished, BirdLife International.
  • Species page at Birdlife International

Distribution maps

The maps presented here provide visual information on the distribution of species in Israel in the past and present, and the changes in occupancy and nesting density during the comparison period. For further reading

Relative Abundance 2010-2020

Breeding density values as calculated from observation records and expert opinions.

Relative Abundance 1980-1990

Breeding density values are based mainly on the book Birds of Israel (Shirihai 1996).

Occupancy difference 1990-2020

A map that expresses differences in the breeding distribution between the evaluation periods (1980-1990 versus 2010-2020). Negative value - species previously present but is currently absent, positive value - species has not been recorded previously and is currently present, zero - no change in occupancy.

Relative abundance difference 1990-2020

A map that reflects the changes in the relative abundance of the species between the evaluation periods (1980-1990 versus 2010-2020). Negative values - decline in abundance, positive values - increase in abundance, zero - no change in abundance.

Red number

IUCN category

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% of protected sites

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