Malagasy Harrier (Circus macrosceles)

Malagasy Harrier

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Circus macrosceles | [authority] Newton, 1863 | [UK] Malagasy Harrier | [FR] Busard de Malagasy | [DE] Madagaskarweihe | [ES] Aguiluch malgache | [NL] Maleisische Kiekendief


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Circus macrosceles AF Madagascar, Comoro Is


The genus Circus is a cosmopolitan genus of about ten species. They are medium-sized, slender hawks, the female being considerably larger than the male. They are characterised by long, narrow, rounded tails, small beaks and long, slender legs. The most notable characteristic is the owl-like ruff of facial feathers that cover unusually large ear openings – an adaptation not for low-light hunting, but to locate prey by their rustling and squeaking in tall grasses.

Physical charateristics

Large harrier. Male blackish on forewing, primaries and mantle, greyer on head, tail and secondaries, with blackish streaks on head and throat. Rump whitish, as in female, which is browner overall with conspicuous bars underneath primaries and on tail. Differs from Black Kite Milvus migrans, Madagascar Buzzard Buteo brachypterus and Madagascar Harrier-hawk Polyboroides radiatus by rather long, narrow wings, white rump, habit of flying low with wings in a “V” and, in male, by contrasting wing pattern.

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 54 cm size max.: 59 cm
incubation min.: 32 days incubation max.: 34 days
fledging min.: 42 days fledging max.: 45 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : Madagascar, Comoro Islands. Circus macrosceles is confined to the Comoro Islands and Madagascar. It has not been seen recently on Mayotte (to France)


In Madagascar, it is primarily associated with wetlands, hunting around the periphery of vegetation-fringed lakes, marshes, coastal wetlands and rice-paddies, as well as over savanna grasslands, including those that are very degraded. On the Comoros, it uses a variety of open and forested habitats in drier areas.


Breeding has been recorded as starting in late August and September, during the middle of the dry season. The incubation period has been observed to be 32-34 days, and nestlings fledge at 42-45 days of age at the start of the rainy season. The species reproduces at a relatively low rate, with mean clutch size recorded as 2.9 eggs, average productivity recorded as 0.9 young fledged per breeding attempt, and three quarters of nests being successful. The diet comprises of insects, snakes, birds, lizards, rodents and domestic chickens.

Feeding habits

It feeds on small vertebrates (including birds) and insects. It hunts in typical harrier style low above wetlands, diving down for prey. It is associated to active heronies.


This species qualifies as Vulnerable based on its very small population which is likely to be declining owing to a variety of threats, principally habitat loss and degradation, and persecution by humans. Recent surveys suggest that the species is rarer than previously thought. If these lower population estimates are confirmed the species may be uplisted to a higher threat category.
In Madagascar, this species is likely to have very poor nesting success owing to the regular and comprehensive burning of grasslands and marshes, especially in the central high-plateau region (to produce fresh grazing areas and to clear land), and due to egg-hunting and nest-destruction by local people. Most savannah fires occur from August to November, thus coinciding with the species’s breeding season. For example, in October 2005, all seven nests at Ambohitantely were destroyed by fire during the incubation period, resulting in the loss of all eggs. Conversion of wetlands for rice farming is also likely to have a negative impact upon the species. Over 80% of marshland in Madagascar has been converted into rice fields, mainly in areas of dense human inhabitation. Nestlings are often taken by people for food and interviews with local communities have revealed that adults are also hunted for food. The species is also persecuted because of its threat to poultry, however in one study of breeding birds, domestic chickens accounted for only 1% of prey items. The disturbance of marshes appears to limit the number of breeding pairs present, and human activities during the cultivation period may force the movement of birds. The species requires undisturbed areas with unaltered savannah, however land-use activities have rendered it absent from many areas of Madagascar.
Malagasy Harrier status Vulnerable



Distribution map

Malagasy Harrier distribution range map

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *