Almudena Alvarez | Palencia (EFE).- From Mali to Palencia. The Montagu’s Harrier travels thousands of kilometers each spring to return to Spain, raise its chicks and keep alive a vulnerable, declining species that claims its space between cereal fields and has its favorite places in the provinces of Badajoz, Palencia, Valladolid. and Zamora.
The Spanish Ornithological Society SEO/BirdLife has made a map with the movements of 17 specimens marked with GPS in different Spanish provinces, Álava, Albacete, Cáceres, Huelva, Jaén or Palencia. Technology has made it possible to follow their migrations through Africa, in the African Sahel, where they have their winter quarters, in countries like Mali, Mauritania, Senegal or Burkina Faso, and their return to Europe.
In these first days of March they are already beginning to detect their return to Spain. They have begun to be seen in the south, but probably until April they will not reach provinces like Palencia, in the northern half of the peninsula. They will be in these latitudes about seven months a year. The time necessary for their chicks to become independent.
“The first specimens are back,” confirms to EFE the SEO/BirdLife technician Jesús Pinilla while reading the database built with the information collected by the high-resolution GPS systems that these birds of prey carry like backpacks. Most cross the Strait of Gibraltar. But they do it “on their own” they do not form flocks like other species that announce their arrival in a group. They are independent and you have to follow their trail one by one.
In Castilla y León, the Spanish community with the most pairs in Spain, some 2,000, ten eaglets were marked with GPS, three in Salamanca that have already stopped broadcasting, -either due to the death of the bird of prey or device failure-, three in Segovia , two in Zamora and another two in Palencia.
An adult male and female were tagged in Palencia in 2019. The female did not do very well because she died shortly after in Mauritania, so she never returned to the province to breed.
They like to “come home”
The male had better luck. And it was possible to verify that, until the track was lost, in the spring of 2022, it liked to winter in Mali and Niger and breed in Osorno and Carrión de los Condes, in the province of Palencia, because they are quite philopatric birds and they like to go back where they were born and raise in the same places.
Through Palencia, specifically through the La Nava area, a female also passed through that was tagged in Segovia in 2019 and that this year is a little behind because this week it had not yet left Africa. “She is in Mali, but she knows what she is doing, because she has already made this trip a few times,” says the expert.
They will be entering the country during March and April, some will find an ideal place to breed in the south of Spain, others will continue on their way to the north, and almost all Spanish provinces will be able to boast of having a couple of Montagu’s harriers multiplying among fields of wheat and barley.
Predilection for Tierra de Campos
For this reason, this species, vulnerable, threatened and in decline in Spain, especially likes the Tierra de Campos region of Palencia, where it finds enough shelter to nest and raise its chicks, despite the risk of dying at the foot of a combine harvester. “They lay between three and six eggs that they incubate for a month and remain in the nest for another month before taking flight,” explains Pinilla.
In Palencia, this spring, between 330 and 400 pairs will be accommodated, which makes it the second preferred Spanish province for the Montagu’s Harrier, behind Badajoz, with 500 pairs, and followed by Valladolid and Zamora, with around 250 pairs each. a. Although only a good watchful eye and a lot of patience will allow you to spot them.
The chicks become independent between July and August and at the end of the summer they will begin to think about going to Africa to close the cycle of a species in decline in the last decade. And it is that, according to the last census carried out by SEO BirdLife, Spain is home to some 4,269-5,360 pairs of Montagu’s Harrier, which represents a decline of between 23% and 27% in ten years.
bird of 2023
An even more tragic fact if one takes into account that Spain is the most important European country for the species at a numerical level, followed by France, with 3,800-5,100 pairs, or Poland, with between 3,000-4,000 pairs.
That is why it has been declared Bird of the Year 2023, by popular vote, to focus on this species that reproduces in agricultural environments, where farming systems have changed, everything has been mechanized and phytosanitary products are used that end up killing these birds of prey. .
And for this reason it is important to make a call to attention to the managers, because “the Montagu’s harrier is at the top of the trophic chain, it is the indicator of the health of our ecosystems and its conservation will influence our quality of life ”, affirms Pinilla.
In this sense, he assures that it is urgent to act with measures that facilitate the coexistence of agriculture with the species, leaving unharvested stands or delaying the harvest until the chicks fly, in exchange for economic considerations that only the administration can establish.
Only in this way will the hand of man be able to contribute to the recovery of this species and guarantee that they return, establishing their summer residence in the rural environment where they were born. EFE
(Related information: La Mar de Campos, how to recover a wetland in the heart of emptied Spain)