This species is known to be undergoing steep population decline in Europe, although numbers in its Asiatic strongholds are thought to be more stable. Thus it is probably experiencing a moderately rapid population decline overall, and consequently it is categorised as Near Threatened.
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: #http://www.aerc.eu/DOCS/Bird_taxa_of _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
40-48cm. Narrow winged, lightly built harrier, with similar structure and flight to C. pygargus with female and juvenile however closer to C. cyaneus in structure and plumage details. Adult male unmistakeable, with pale grey and white plumage, relieved only by black wing-tips. Adult female dark brown above, streaked below, with barred tail. Similar spp. Adult female can be distinguished from C. pygargus by lack of solid dark trailing edge to inner primaries when seen in flight from below combined with duller secondaries, lack of dark bar along mid-secondaries on upperwing, and a series of subtle characters. Juvenile differs from C. pygargus in having almost white ruff-collar rather than dark neck shawl, same primary pattern as for female and other subtle characters. Female and juvenile C. macrourus also resemble C. cyaneus, but the latter species is larger, with proportionately shorter and broader wings. Voice Little known, but said to be similar to that of C. pygargus and C. cyaneus. Usually silent in winter.
Distribution and populationCircus macrourus
breeds primarily in the steppes of Asiatic Russia
and north-west China
. Small populations breed in Azerbaijan, Romania, Turkey
. A minority winter in south-east and central Europe, north Africa and the Middle East but most migrate to the Afrotropics (Sudan, South Sudan
, Sierra Leone
, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia
, Ivory Coast
, Burkina Faso, Nigeria
, Central African Republic
, Democratic Republic of Congo
and South Africa
) and the Indian subcontinent (Afghanistan
, Sri Lanka
) (Thiollay 1994). There are also records from the Maldives
. In 2007, six pairs bred in the Moscow region for the very first time
(A. Vintchevski in litt.
2007). The global population is estimated at 9,000-15,000 pairs (Galushin et al.
2003), and has shown marked declines and range contractions. The status of the European population (310-1,200 pairs in Azerbaijan, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and western Russia, occupying 25-49% of the global breeding range) was recently reassessed (Galushin et al.
2003; BirdLife International 2004a). Following a large decline in Europe during 1970-1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994), when up to 30% of birds were lost (particularly from the key population in European Russia), the species continued to decline in 1990-2000, and overall trends exceeded 30% over three generations (18 years) (BirdLife International 2004a). It appears that the species has been extirpated from Moldova and Belarus, where it bred formerly (Galushin et al.
BirdLife International 2004a). In Asia, however, the population is presumed to be more stable. Surveys in the Kustanay Oblast region (northern Kazakhstan) from 1997 to 2004 indicate a fluctuating but ostensibly stable population of 1,500-2,000 pairs, nesting at a density of 9.4-25 pairs per 100 km2
(Bragin 1999, E. Bragin in litt.
. No other detailed surveys are known from the species's Asiatic range, although anecdotal evidence from southern Kazakhstan (Almaty to Chockpack Bird Station) suggests that it is locally abundant
(A. Corso in litt.
2005). Assessment of the status of this species is complicated by the fact that on breeding territories numbers fluctuate in response to environmental conditions, probably numbers of small mammals. Thus, high or low numbers in any given year or two-year period may be indicative of change in demographics or they may be indicative of change in local environment (and birds may go elsewhere without their population size changing) (T. Katzner in litt.
2005). Reliable records from migration routes and wintering grounds are also difficult to obtain owing to the rarity of the species, its broad-front migration strategy, and difficulties in field identification, although important concentrations of birds have been identified in parts of India and Africa (Galushin et al.
2003). Population justification
The global population is estimated at 9,000-15,000 pairs.Trend justification
The species is judged to be in moderately rapid decline overall, based on results from population surveys: A large decline occurred in Europe during 1970-1990 (Tucker and Heath 1994), when up to 30% of birds were lost (particularly from the key population in European Russia), and the species continued to decline in 1990-2000, when overall trends exceeded 30% over three generations (18 years) (BirdLife International 2004a). It appears that the species has been extirpated from Moldova and Belarus, where it bred formerly (Galushin et al.
2003, BirdLife International 2004a).Ecology
It breeds in semi-desert, steppe and forest-steppe up to 2,000 m, where its favoured nesting sites are wet grasslands close to small rivers and lakes, and marshlands (Galushin et al.
2003, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species has also been found to breed in agricultural areas, at least when agriculture is non-intensive (Terraube et al.
2009). A small minority of the population breeds in the boreal forest and forest-tundra zones, north of its main breeding range (Kuznetsov 1994; Morozov in litt.
1999), where it nests in clearings and other open areas (Galushin et al.
2003). Semi-desert, scrub, savanna and wetlands are used in winter (J. Brouwer in litt.
). The species is migratory, with most birds wintering in sub-Saharan Africa or south-east Asia. They leave their breeding grounds between August and November and return in March and April (del Hoyo et al.
1994). Birds migrate on a broad front, with only minor concentrations at bottleneck sites (del Hoyo et al.
1994, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Although birds are most often seen singly, females and juveniles can form parties of 10-15 on migration (Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Birds fly at c.1-9 m above the ground when hunting (del Hoyo et al.
1994, Snow and Perrins 1998); they fly generally higher on migration but tend to remain from c.1-15 m above the ground (Brown et al.
In its breeding range it is primarily threatened by the destruction and degradation of steppe grasslands through conversion to arable agriculture, burning of vegetation, intensive grazing of wet pastures and the clearance of shrubs and tall weeds (Galushin et al.
2003, E. Bragin in litt.
2007). Fires are started by farmers, arsonists and dry thunderstorms
(E. Bragin in litt.
2007). On its wintering grounds it is thought to be negatively affected by the use of harmful pesticides, rodenticides and other toxic chemicals (R. Simmons in litt.
1999; Galushin et al.
2003), although this requires further research, and by the loss of grassland due to burning, cutting and overgrazing (Galushin et al.
2003). Conservation Actions Underway
It is listed in Appendix II of CITES, Annex II of the Bonn and Bern Conventions and in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive. It is also listed in the Red Data Books of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey (Galushin et al.
2003; Kiliç and Eken 2004). It occurs in five state nature reserves in Russia and in Naurzum and Korgaljin Nature Reserves in Kazakhstan (Galushin et al.
2003). An International Action Plan for the species was produced in 2003 (Galushin et al.
.Conservation Actions Proposed
Encourage conservation of wetlands and ponds in typical steppe grassland and semi-desert. Support moderate grazing and conservation of grasslands. Develop survey methodology (including GIS) and carry out surveys, primarily in the core breeding range and, secondarily, to establish its northern and southern range limits as well as to search for new nesting places outside core breeding grounds. Carry out research into diet and foraging range size, and their role in the movement of populations. Lobby for enactment and enforcement of legislation banning the use of harmful pesticides in the winter range, and in the recovering agricultural economy in the breeding range. Survey grassland and thorn-forest areas in African and Indian winter range for significant roosting concentrations, including tracking birds by means of satellite telemetry as soon as feasible. Review roost site and catchment area management at winter roosts, most urgently in areas where agriculture is changing due to new irrigation schemes, and pursue any necessary conservation action. Carry out research into pesticide residues in corpses, and pesticide use in winter roost catchment areas. Encourage full legal protection and education in countries on migration routes and in the winter range (Galushin et al.
Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Bragin, E. 1999. The changes of fauna and number of birds of prey in Kustanay Oblast (North Kazakhstan). Kazakhstan Zoological Journal: 99-105.
Brown, L. H.; Urban, E. K.; Newman, K. 1982. The birds of Africa vol I. Academic Press, London.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1994. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Ferguson-Lees, J.; Christie, D. A. 2001. Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, London.
Galushin, V.; Clarke, R.; Davygora, A. 2003. International Action Plan for the Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus).
KiliÃ§, D. T.; Eken, G. 2004. TÃ¼rkiye'nin Ã¶nemli kus alanlari: 2004 GÃ¼ncellemesi (Turkish IBAs). Doga Dernegi, Ankara.
Kuznetsov, A. V. 1994. [Birds of prey of the Kostroma lowland]. In: Kurochkin, E.N. (ed.), [Modern ornithology], pp. 86-93. Nauka, Moscow.
Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Terraube, J.; Arroyo, B. E.; Mougeot, F.; Madders, M.; Watson, J.; Bragin, E. A. 2009. Breeding biology of the Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus in north-central Kazakhstan: implications for the conservation of a near threatened species. Oryx 43(1): 104-112.
Thiollay, J.-M. 1994. Family Accipitridae (Hawks and Eagles). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 52-205. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Tucker, G. M.; Heath, M. F. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
International Action Plan
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Peet, N., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Khwaja, N.
Bragin, E., Brouwer, J., Corso, A., Hall, P., Katzner, T., Morozov, V., Murphy, P., Pomeroy, D., Simmons, R., Tyler, S., Vintchevski, A.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Circus macrourus. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/01/2015.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/01/2015.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.
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