Pallid Harrier

(Circus macrourus)

The Pallid Harrier is the rarest harrier species in Europe, and due to its restricted range in far eastern Europe, is very hard to observe.

Photo of Pallid Harrier in flight
Pallid Harrier in flight

In some years there are influxes of Pallid Harriers into central Europe during migration (especially in autumn), and this is the best option to get the rare fortune of witnessing this beautiful raptor in the wild. 

The global population of the Pallid Harrier is classified as Near Threatened, and because of this, it’s essential to protect the European breeding populations as much as possible.

The best way to conserve the Pallid Harrier is by protecting its habitat, which also benefits countless other species that live in open landscapes. 

Pallid Harrier facts

The Pallid Harrier is the rarest harrier in Europe, and in fact one of the rarest European raptors overall. 

Pallid Harrier size

The Pallid Harrier is slightly smaller than the Montagu’s Harrier, which makes it the smallest harrier species in Europe.

  • Wingspan: 105-120 cm
  • Length: 42-48 cm
  • Weight: 400-550 g (female), 235-415 g (male)

While a female Pallid Harrier has a similar wingspan to the Eurasian Buzzard, the male is noticeably smaller than this, with a wingspan that’s more similar to a crow.


The Pallid Harrier is an elegant harrier that closely resembles the Montagu’s Harrier, although males are much paler (hence the species name), and are uniformly light grey with dark wingtips. 

Photo of adult male Pallid Harrier perched on a branch
Adult male Pallid Harrier perched on a branch

Adult female and juvenile Pallid Harriers are very similar to Montagu’s Harriers, and it takes a lot of birding experience to be able to tell them apart.

Sexual dimorphism

Similar to the majority of raptor species found in Europe, the female Pallid Harrier is significantly larger than the male, to the extent that the two sexes barely overlap in size.

In addition to this, there is also a clear color difference between the sexes. While females are dark brown on top with a light rufous brown underside, males are uniformly pale grey with black wingtips. 


A maximum age of 12 years has been recorded in the wild. 

Scientific name and taxonomy

The scientific name of the Pallid Harrier is Circus macrourus. There are no known subspecies, but this bird is closely related to the Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus). The two species can hybridize with each other, and sometimes mixed pairs are observed in the wild. 

Pallid Harrier distribution

The Pallid Harrier is an eastern palearctic species, and within Europe it only breeds in Ukraine and the European part of Russia, and also occurs in Turkey. Outside of Europe, its range extends eastwards to Mongolia and China.

Pallid Harrier habitat

Similar to other harrier species, the Pallid Harrier is exclusively found in open country, and prefers steppes and grassland, as well as marshes and extensively cultivated farmland. Unlike the Western Marsh Harrier, the Pallid Harrier is not found in wetlands. 

Pallid Harrier population size

The European population size of the Pallid Harrier is estimated to be between 300 and 1,200 breeding pairs by BirdLife International. This makes it one of the rarest raptors in Europe, and in dire need of protection and conservation efforts to ensure it doesn’t become extinct.

Pallid Harrier behavior

The most common behavior observed from Pallid Harriers is slow flight over open country at low altitude. Similar to other harriers, it has perfected the technique of flying slowly a few feet above the ground, and swoops down on any unsuspecting prey that it surprises in the open.

Feeding and diet

The main food source of the Pallid Harrier are voles and other small rodents, as well as young birds, lizards, and insects. Birds form a larger part of the diet in years with low vole population numbers. In its wintering range, insects become the most important food source, and the Pallid Harrier moves to locations with swarming termites or locusts.


Similar to other harrier species, the Pallid Harrier nests on the ground in an area with dense vegetation. Sometimes it nests underneath a bush. The female lays 3-6 eggs, which are incubated for up to 31 days. After hatching, the young harriers stay in the nest for up to 49 days, and continue to be fed even after they leave the nest.

Pallid Harrier migration

The Pallid Harrier is a strict long-distance migratory species, and spends the winter in Africa south of the Sahara.

Unlike other raptors, the Pallid Harrier doesn’t use “migration corridors”, and instead migrates along a broad front. Unfortunately, this means migration counts can’t be used to estimate its overall population numbers. 

Pallid Harrier conservation status

The entire global population is estimated to be less than 30,000 pairs, and as a result of this low number, the Pallid Harrier conservation status is classified as “Near Threatened” by BirdLife International

And while the majority of the Pallid Harrier population occurs outside of Europe, it’s essential to focus conservation efforts on protecting this species in Europe, in order to contribute to its global survival.

The best way to protect the Palid Harrier is to preserve or recreate its habitat, which is fortunately fairly easy, if there is the will to do it.


The biggest threat to the Pallid Harrier is destruction of its habitat, due to the conversion of steppe landscapes to cultivated farmland.

Unlike other raptor species, the Palid Harrier hasn’t been able to adapt to intensively cultivated farmland very well, and as a result its numbers have declined steadily over the past decades. 

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