Black Harrier Circus maurus
The Black Harrier is a medium-sized African Harrier whose range extends from South Africa to Botswana and Namibia. It has a wingspan of 105–115 cm (41–45 in) and a body length of 44–50 cm (17–20 in). When perched, this bird appears all black. In-flight, a white rump and flight feathers become visible. Its morphology is comparable to that of other harriers, with a slim body, narrow wings, and a long tail. Male and female plumages are similar. Juveniles have buff underparts and heavily spotted breasts.
The Black Harrier feed mostly on small rodents and birds and will occasionally take reptiles, catching them while flying low over its hunting grounds.
In South Africa, the distribution of the black harrier is distinctly polarized in both the Western and Southern coastal plains. Nests are concentrated either along the coastal strip or inland in a more montane habitat. Nests are generally absent from transformed and cultivated lands.
Black harriers are migratory birds and, their annual movements cover the southern half of the land surface of South Africa (including Lesotho). The majority of these birds undertake an unusual west-east migration. Pair members do not travel together and, they don’t use the same non-breeding areas either. It has been suggested that black harriers migrate to deal with declines in food availability.
Unusually, Black Harriers travel almost twice as fast during their summer post-breeding migration as they during their winter/spring pre-breeding migration. In many other species, this is often reported the other way round. One reasoning for this is that it is part of their pre-breeding behavior and that the extra time is used to find the best breeding areas.
Home ranges during the breeding seasons and non-breeding seasons are of similar sizes, suggesting similar levels of food availability. Black Harriers return to breeding areas they have used previously and, they return to their birthplace to breed.
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