A nest in the wheat fields
CABS project for the protection of the threatened montagu's and marsh harriers in the Rhineland
In spring, when the marsh and marsh harriers returning home from Africa have run the gauntlet of gunfire from many Maltese hunters' and successfully return to their Central European breeding grounds, they are presented with a - from their point of view - a fantastic picture: endless treeless grasslands that travel as far as the horizon, knee-high and somewhat open, with plenty of mice. Perfect conditions for a ground breeding birds of prey. But what the harriers regard as inviting natural meadows, are the cereal fields of our agricultural landscape and when the chicks hatch, the combine harvesters are already warming up.
Winter barley, of all things, is a particular favourite of the birds of prey that are also now highly endangered in Germany. The cereal, which germinates early in autumn, has just the right height of about 30 cm in spring and attracts the birds as if by magic. By mid to-late May the females lay up to 6 eggs in a simple straw nest. After an incubation period of approximately 30 days and brooding for 28 to 33 days, the birds are ready the fully fledge by mid July. The Barley matures quite fast on average. If the birds lay their eggs early, the Harvest generally takes place after the young harriers have fledged. However, if the spring is warm and sunny, the harvest may be brought forward to June and there is a danger that the nests will be destroyed and the young killed under the force of the combine harvesters. The problem is the fact that new cereals sown to ripen earlier and earlier - which is exacerbated by rising temperatures due to climate change.