Interview with Dominik Krupinski about the Montagu's Harrier in Poland

Date of the interview: 09 May 2010

In this interview Dominik Krupinski talks about the current situation of the Montagu's Harrier in Poland.

Dominik Krupinski

Dominik Krupinski

Markus Jais: What is the current status of the Montagu's Harrier in Poland?
Dominik Krupinski: The Montagu's harrier is rare or very rare breeder in the lowland part of Poland. According to the Birds of Prey Monitoring Scheme (2007-2008) the polish population of this species is estimated 3300-3550 breeding pairs and it constitutes 20% of the European Union population of this species. We think those numbers are being underestimated. To verify it we're going to carry out Montagu's harrier census basing on 100 random plots localized in the whole country.

Markus Jais: How has the population developed during the last decades?
Dominik Krupinski: It is difficult to discuss population trends, because we have no reliable data yet (neither quantitative data or index data). We're carrying out Montagu's harrier monitoring (in national and regional scale) since 2007, so it's a little bit short to observe major population trends. In the nineties the growth of the arable land population was noticed in Poland, which may have some influence on the population trends.

Markus Jais: Where do most pairs breed?
Dominik Krupinski: Montagu's harrier is most common in the east part of Poland (lubelskie, mazowieckie and podlaskie voivodeship). In the South Podlasie region (where our work concentrates the most) this species is quite widespread. Our intensive searching for occupied territories in a few districts took effect in founding 240-270 breeding pairs, which exceeds 4 times the previous estimates for the much larger region. We have obtained a high densities of birds reaching up to 10 pairs per 100 km2. So far the biggest concentrations were noticed on the marshes and meadow complexes in the river valleys like Biebrza, Narew, Warta and Noteć.

Markus Jais: What are the main threats to the species?
Dominik Krupinski: The biggest threat for Montagu's harrier are the changes in the agriculture landscape, caused by intensification of crop production. Since Poland has joined the European Union our agriculture is mostly shaped by EU Common Agricultural Policy. Unfortunately we commit the same mistakes as countries of West Europe. Traditional, extensive agriculture disappears and so do the accompanying biological diversity of country sides. The policy of division of EU resources is to blame. Most of it support area payments and modernization (mainly intensification) of crop production. Only the small part of funds support the extensive, pro-environmental agriculture. Another serious factor is fox predation. Number of foxes rise rapidly after mass fighting with rabies disease with vaccines (dropped from planes). Now all the ground-breeding bird species suffer from the increased fox predation.

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu's Harrier, © Andrzej Lukijanczuk

Markus Jais: In which habitat do most pairs breed?
Dominik Krupinski: It's difficult to tell it across whole country scale. In South Podlasie, where we operate most often, 80-85 % of Montagu's harrier pairs breeds in triticale and rape fields. The rest 15-20% have their nests on meadows, reed and alfalfa.

Markus Jais: What is the most important prey for the Montagu's Harrier in Poland?
Dominik Krupinski: Diet of arable land population of Montagu's harrier have not been studied enough so far. We are now analyzing quite a big sample of material (over 1000 of pellets) from years 2007-2010. First data (however on small sample from South Podlasie and Mazowsze regions) indicates the high variety of prey. Insects were the most abundant prey (75% of share in prey number), especially grasshoppers were most numerous, reaching up to 20-30 individuals in one pellet. Rodents and birds constitute less in the prey numbers (12,7 and 12,1 % respectively), but their share in biomass were more significant (birds 54,9 %, rodents 36,1 %). Reptiles were the least common prey. Different results were obtained by our friends in the calcareous peatbogs near Chełm. They found that the key prey for Montagu's harrier was the common vole Microtus arvalis, but the share of that prey decreased from 65% in years 1985-1988 to 30% in 2004-2008.

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu's Harrier, © Andrzej Lukijanczuk

Markus Jais: Are there ringing or satellite telemetry programs to find out more about their migration routes and wintering ground? What is known about this?
Dominik Krupinski: Thanks to satellite telemetry we know, that birds from East Poland are wintering in West Niger. Birds are leaving their breeding grounds in first or second decade of August. They flew over Slovakia or Ukraine, Romania, Greece, Mediterranean See and then over Libya and Chad. Birds came back in April and their spring path goes by Algeria, Italy or Sardinia and Corsica. In just one day birds followed by us were able to cover a distance of 1000 km. Not every year do birds come back to the same breeding grounds. Sometimes (especially in females) a distance between their breeding grounds in following years may vary by a few hundred kilometers. A completely different situation occurs on wintering grounds. Thanks to the satellite telemetry we know, that our birds winter in same places in following years.
We ring Montagu's harrier chicks with color bands (orange rings with black alphanumeric code) since 2005. Adult birds are being marked in the same way starting from 2006. Until now we have ringed over 400 chicks and about 70 adult birds, but still most of the monitored birds aren't wearing any rings. Small number of recoveries may be caused by the fact that young birds are probably settling down far from the places they were born (long distance dispersion was found in juvenile birds from Spain).

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu's Harrier, © Andrzej Lukijanczuk

Markus Jais: In some countries, farmers who leave an area around the nest to protect the harriers while harvesting are compensated for their loss. Is there a similar program in Poland?
Dominik Krupinski: In Poland such practices are not established. In our opinion it isn't a big loss for famers and it's also not so wise to get farmers accustomed to money from this kind of nature's protection. We protect the nests with the 3x3 or 2x2 meters fence. On our request farmers leave a strip of about 2-5 meters of crops. In case of meadows or alfalfa, the buffer zone is wider - about 8 to 10 meters. Farmers usually respond positively to active protection of nests and cooperate with us. There are some cases of misunderstanding of our work, but hopefully those situations happens rarely.
Montagu's harrier is in Poland one of the species which qualify the meadows to payments from "bird conservation package" in agri-environmental programs. If a farmer has Montagu's harrier breeding on his meadows and wish to join the program he will gain about 300 € for waiting with mowing the meadow until at least 1st of August.

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu's Harrier, © Andrzej Lukijanczuk

Markus Jais: What organisations are involved in the conservation of the species?
Dominik Krupinski: Montagu's harrier conservation was initiated in 2005 by the Wildlife Society "Stork". Since then "Stork" coordinates the species conservation program in Poland. Actually several people from different parts of Poland and few organizations like Eagle Conservation Committee and West-Pomeranan Wildlife Society participate in the fieldwork. In 2009 we have called into existence Polish Montagu's Harrier Working Group "PYGARGUS", which gather people interested in conservation and studies on Montagu's harrier in Poland.

Markus Jais: What is the status of the other harrier species in Poland?
Dominik Krupinski: The most common harrier species is Marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus. It's population has been estimated on 8000-10000 pairs in 2007-2008.
Hen harrier Circus cyaneus is extremely rare and endangered species in Poland. For a few years now there are no confirmed cases of it's breeding in our country.
Pallid harrier Circus macrourus is a rare (but regularly seen) visitor during migration periods.

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu's Harrier, © Andrzej Lukijanczuk

Markus Jais: How can people help the conservation of harriers in Poland?
Dominik Krupinski: A huge group of volunteers participates in field works each year. Without their help we wouldn't be able to act on such a large scale. We hope to see more co-workers and volunteers committed to the project. Our work like active nest protection (costs like fences and gas) are supported by wildlife conservation grants. Researches like for example GPS telemetry we're financing from private resources and donation, that's why each year we appeal to people also for financial support.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with Montagu's Harriers?
Dominik Krupinski: For me the most satisfying experience was the last years observation of 14 pairs sky-dancing Montagu's harriers in a semicolony on a rape field. Watching so many birds with a such a scenic landscape in the background made a big impression on me.

Markus Jais: Dominik, thank you very much for the interview!

Further Information

pygargus.pl