Papuan Harrier (Circus spilothorax)

Papuan Harrier

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Circus spilothorax | [authority] Kaup, 1847 | [UK] Papuan Harrier | [FR] Busard de Papua | [DE] Papuaweihe | [ES] Aguilucho de Papua | [NL] Papua Kiekendief


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Circus spilothorax AU c, e New Guinea


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

From a distance the female is a bi-colored bird with dark hood and upperparts and whitish underparts. The male is more like other harriers with more streaking, The species is polymorphic, Normal morph has streaking on neck and head, the Central Highland birds have solid blackish throat, the dark morph is entirely black with some pale streaking and grey tail.

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 47 cm size max.: 55 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


Australasia : Central, East New Guinea


Frequents large grasslands, floodplains, and vegetation fringing wetlands, and other open country; usually seen soaring or flying low over open country or swamps, mostly in the highlands. This species usually occurs singly, or occasionally in pairs.


The nest is placed on the ground like those of other harriers. Nests were found in April 2007 in the eastern lowlands. Both were on the ground adjacent to reed dumps about 1 m high, which stood slightly above the surrounding grasses, and each contained three chicks. Laying dates of first eggs were estimated at 2 and 6 April, respectively, which is at the beginning of the dry season.

Feeding habits

Feeds on small mammals, birds, and lizards. It flies about 4-5 m above grasslands and wheels and stoops on prey, rather than striking rapidly from lower altitudes like other harriers.


Simmons and Legra (op cit.) recommended that the Papuan Harrier should be regarded as Vulnerable. BirdLife International treats the Papuan Harrier as a subspecies of the Eastern Marsh (Pacific) Harrier, Circus spilonotus, which it categorizes globally as a species of “Least Concern.”


Altitudinal movements of this species from lowland to highland grasslands in April at the beginning of the dry season have been documented. Local residents in villages around Goroka, a town at 1,500 m in the Eastern Highlands, reported that the species is only present there from April to September. This species is absent from the southern lowlands around Kurik from May-September (dry season), but present in all other months over a four-year period.

Distribution map

Papuan Harrier distribution range map

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