World Migratory Bird Day 2021: sing, fly, soar — like a bird!
While what seemed like an everlasting winter slowly turns into a cold and wet spring, our migratory birds are not slowing down and are arriving in full force. Yellow wagtails, barn swallows and common redstarts are finally colouring our landscapes again and filling our skies with joyous chatter and song. The migrants eating insects are surely followed by the ones eating other birds and voles: our migratory raptors soaring from Africa crossing deserts and seas.
Tomorrow, 8 May 2021 is World Migratory Bird Day, and in addition to that, for Eurosite member the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation it is also the start of a new season of breeding harriers. Together with volunteers they will be searching the province of Flevoland for breeding pairs since these birds are among the most vulnerable breeding raptors. In particular, the volunteers will be on the look out for breeding hen harriers, their rare cousin the Montagu’s harrier, and the declining nephew the marsh harrier. When these pairs are located, in due time a protective fence will be placed around their nests to protect the birds against ground predation and risks caused by agricultural activities.
That these birds need protecting was once again cruelly demonstrated when the last breeding Montagu’s harrier female in Flevoland was assumedly shot last year. She died on her nest that contained three young chicks. Due to commendable attentiveness of volunteer Johan Janssens who observed the distressed male ‘Abe’, nothing short of a miracle happened and one of the chicks survived. After recuperating in bird sanctuary ‘de Fûgelhelling’ it was fostered in another nest in the Dutch province of Groningen, where volunteer Hilvert Huizing visited the chick regularly to leave supplementary food. All these efforts combined resulted in the young harrier successfully fledging weeks later. Where raptor persecution turns out to not only be a thing of our past but sadly still occuring today, we still have this small victory to celebrate. With it comes an even greater victory, because protecting migratory and farmland birds is in essence a story of collaboration with hundreds of volunteers, farmers, site managers, researchers and everyone else contributing in any way. Although harriers may not sing like the yellow wagtails, swallows or redstarts, they surely fly and soar unlike any other. They crown our farmland with their hovering presence and urgent calls and even when their return is far from guaranteed we will be waiting with open arms every time. Happy World Migratory Bird Day!
Photo: GPS-tagged Montagu’s harrier ‘Margot’ in Flevoland in 2020. © Rob Dekker