Such a noble feathered predator as the steppe harrier looks proud and stately, its hawkish nature is immediately noticeable in all bird features and manifestations. Let's study the way of life, behavioral features, character, external details, food preferences and places of permanent deployment of this beautiful and interesting bird, which, unfortunately, has become very small.
Origin of the species and description
Steppe Harrier is a winged predator from the hawk family, the hawk-like order and the genus of harriers. In general, in the genus of harriers, there are 16 birds living at the moment, and some of their species have become extinct.
Probably, many are familiar with such a catchphrase “gray-haired as a harrier”, it describes a person whose hair is white with gray hair. This expression is associated with the moon, because. some varieties of these birds are characterized by a grayish-ashy color with impurities of bluish hues, and from a distance a flying harrier seems completely whitish.
Video: Steppe harrier
Such a comparison was attached to the moon not only because of the color of its plumage, but also due to some external features. The bent hook-shaped beak of a predator, the feather crown bordering the cheeks and chin resemble a wise old man with a beard and powdered with gray hair. There is another version of the interpretation of this phrase, it is associated with a change in the color scheme of males, relative to their age. Growing up, in bird plumage, brown tones are replaced by lighter grayish shades.
In terms of size, the steppe harrier occupies a middle position in its hawk family. Males are smaller than females. The length of the body of the male individual ranges from 44 to 48 cm, and the female – from 48 to 53. The length of the wings in the wingspan for males is about 110 cm, and for female birds it is approximately 10 cm longer. There is a significant difference between the sexes in color, which we will describe below.
Appearance and features
It is very easy to distinguish a female steppe harrier from a male if you know all the nuances in the coloration of birds. The mature male has a light bluish color, and its lower part is almost white. The steppe harrier has lighter plumage tones than its field counterpart. On the tops of the bird's wings, a spot in the form of a wedge is immediately noticeable, which does not capture the flight feathers. The light abdomen has the same whitish color as the head, goiter, neck.
The color of the female is brownish-variegated, the wings and tail are lined with stripes, and a narrow crescent-shaped white spot stands out in the rump zone. From above the tail has four, and from the bottom – three wide strips located across. Of all these bands, only one is clearly visible – the top one. The eye of the female is bordered by a dark bracket, on top of which there is also a light edging. From a distance, the female of the steppe harrier is very similar to the female of the meadow harrier, it is impossible for a simple layman to distinguish them.
Young birds have an ocher-red color, the tone of which is lighter compared to young meadow harriers. The front part of the head of the steppe harrier is outlined by a certain collar of light color. The underside of the wings are lined with stripes. The legs of young birds, like those of mature birds, are yellow. The eyes of young animals are dark in color, and with age they become yellow or light brown.
Like all other hawks, the steppe harrier has a black hook-shaped beak. The paws of the feathered are quite powerful and are dressed in feather trousers from the top to the very knees. Compared to other hawks, whose physique is rather dense and stocky, the steppe harrier has a very slender figure. Its distinguishing feature is the presence of narrow wings. When the steppe harrier flies high, it is somewhat reminiscent of a seagull. In these birds, the flight is always energetic and swift, the flapping of the wings is very frequent. During a gliding flight, the angle between the raised bird wings can vary from 90 to 100 degrees.
Where does the steppe harrier live?
Sad as it sounds, but today the predator-harrier belongs to the endangered species of birds, which has become less and less common.
The steppe harrier takes a fancy to:
- the steppes of southeastern Europe, and in the west of Europe its range reaches Dobruja and Belarus;
- the space of Asia, settling to the territory of Dzungaria and the Altai Territory;
- southwest of Transbaikalia;
- the northern zone of our country, where the territory of settlement is limited to Moscow, Tula and Ryazan, as well as Kazan and Kirov;
- Siberia, Arkhangelsk, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk and Tyumen regions (occurs in summer);
- southern Crimean and Caucasian expanses, Turkestan and Iran.
It is in the south that the bird population is most numerous. But in Germany, Sweden, the Baltic states and in the north-west of Mongolia, there are very few harriers, but they still occur. Very rarely, but the steppe harrier was seen in Britain. Do not forget that the harrier is a migratory bird that moves to new places due to lack of food or uncomfortable climatic conditions. There are also sedentary birds that mainly inhabit the Crimean steppes and the Caucasus.
Interesting fact: To spend the winter, the steppe harrier goes to the territories of Burma, India, Mesopotamia, Iran. A predator flies both to the African continent and to the north-west of the Caucasus.
By the name of the bird, it is clear that this harrier loves the steppes, open plains, wastelands, and also settles in marshy lands. Uncommon, but sometimes found in areas of light forests. A predator needs a sufficient view from a height in order to successfully hunt, looking out for its potential prey from above.
Now you know where the steppe harrier bird lives. Let's see who he is hunting.
What does the steppe harrier eat?
So, the harrier is not averse to a bite:
- mice and voles;
- small ground squirrels;
- chicks of black grouse and short-eared owls;
- steppe pipits;
- large insects.
As you can see, the diet of the steppe harrier is very diverse. He is a dexterous daytime hunter, because it is much easier for him to see a small-sized prey in the light of day. The harrier grabs small birds right on the fly. It can also eat eggs, ruining ground bird nests. The feathered one hunts not only for moving prey, but also for sitting on the ground without movement.
Noticing his snack, the harrier begins to dive down quickly, putting his long and grasping limbs forward. They help the harrier to get food even where tall weeds grow. Before completely sinking to the ground, the harrier slows down, spreading its tail like a fan. Each winged predator has its own area for hunting
Interesting fact: The land allotment for hunting belonging to the steppe harrier does not differ much in size, but the feathered fly over it regularly, adhering to one and the same route. The harrier makes its flight at a low altitude.
It is worth noting that if things are bad with food, harriers migrate to other areas in search of places where there is enough food.
Character and Lifestyle Features
Almost the entire life of the steppe harriers is associated with open spaces: semi-deserts, steppes, plains. Often, winged ones are deployed near cultivated fields, and also live in the forest-steppe. Harriers build their nests on the ground, preferring hills, often they are in reed beds.
Interesting fact: Harriers can be seen either in flight or on the ground, these birds almost never land on the branches of trees, leading an air-ground life.
The nature of the harrier is predatory, secretive, very cautious and unsociable, but sometimes he embarks on a robbery, flying into people's farmsteads, where he attacks small kittens and domestic pigeons. This happens infrequently and, apparently, due to the fact that the harrier is very hungry and has nowhere else to get food.
In flight, the harrier looks noble, graceful, moving slowly and measuredly. Looking at the flying harrier, you can see that it sways a little. Only in the spring wedding season are completely different, demonstration performances at their best. The flight of the steppe harrier is more energetic and swift than other varieties of harriers. Having raised their offspring, harriers go for wintering to warm lands: to the African mainland, to India, Burma, Iran. They return with the arrival of spring (end of March – April), doing it in splendid isolation or in pairs.
The harrier's voice is represented by rattling sounds, which can be replaced by very loud and frequent exclamations of “geek-geek-geek”. Sounds during a simple current and when danger approaches are different, moving from melodic and vibrating to screeching trills. Steppe harriers do not form large and numerous settlements, preferring to live and nest in separate pairs.
Social structure and reproduction
Steppe harriers become sexually mature closer to three years of age. The wedding season for birds starts in the spring. At this time, you can see the aerial tricks of the males, impressing the winged ladies. Predators soar into the sky with lightning speed, and then dive down sharply, performing somersaults and flips right on the fly. At the same time, loud shouts are heard. Females can also dance along with gentlemen, but their trick range is not so expressive and impetuous.
Ground nesting sites are quite simple, they are small depressions, which are lined with dry coarse grass and shrub twigs. Inside there may be a litter of softer blades of grass. Eggs are laid in April or May, in a laying there can be from three to six pieces. The predominant tone of the shell is white, but brownish mottles may be scattered on it. The incubation period lasts from 30 to 35 days, expectant mothers incubate the cubs.
An interesting fact: During incubation and rearing of offspring, harriers become extremely aggressive, zealously protecting their offspring. Before any dangers, they do not retreat, they can easily drive away even a fox, a dog and an eagle.
Chicks may hatch in late June or early July. The entire brood stays together until August. The female and newborn children are fed by a caring father and partner, after some time the feathered mother flies out of the nest and hunts on her own. In very young chicks, the body is covered with white fluff, then it becomes pale cream, gradually acquiring a more pronounced brownish tint.
Chicks do not leave their nest from 35 to 48 days, after which time they begin to make their first inept flights, preparing for departure to warm countries. The completion of the reproductive age of harriers occurs closer to the age of eighteen, and they live in the natural environment from 20 to 22 years, they can live in captivity for a quarter of a century.
Natural enemies of the Steppe Harrier
The main enemies of the steppe harrier in natural conditions are considered to be other raptors: the steppe eagle and the imperial eagle. Ornithologists have found that both mature individuals and young steppe harriers are infected with blood parasites, causing the birds to die. Despite all this, neither raptors nor diseases bring large-scale harm to the population, the main threat to the existence of the harrier is man.
Sadly, but the most important and dangerous enemies of the steppe harriers are people who conduct their tireless and selfish economic activities aimed only at their own benefit. Man, interfering with natural biotopes, displaces harriers from inhabited territories, which negatively affects bird life. A large number of inexperienced chicks die under the wheels of cars. Scientists suggest that many broods suffer during winter mowing.
Birds die by eating poisoned rodents near cultivated fields. There are fewer and fewer untouched places where the harrier can feel at ease and in complete safety. People not only occupy vast territories for their own needs, but also worsen the ecological situation in general, causing harm to many representatives of the fauna, including the steppe harriers.
Population and species status
Back in the nineteenth century, the steppe harrier was a fairly widespread predatory bird. In the thirties of the last century, he was considered a typical representative of the fauna of the western part of the Caucasus. But closer to 1990, it became a rarity, random single meetings with birds were recorded.
In general, there are no specific data on the number of steppe harriers, both in relation to our country and the entire world space. According to some reports, there are only 40 thousand individuals or 20 thousand pairs of steppe harriers left. Of these, about 5 thousand pairs live in the vastness of our country, but these data cannot be called accurate.
Interesting fact: The number of steppe harriers in different periods of time in different territories varies, because . birds constantly migrate to those places where there are a lot of rodents. Because of this, in these regions, an erroneous opinion is created that the number of winged predators has become high.
Disappointing data indicate that the harrier population is very vulnerable, there are very few birds left, they are endangered, and as a result, they are listed in the Red Book. The reason for this is thoughtless human actions, which lead to the destruction of the natural habitats of these noble birds.
People are engaged in mowing meadows, draining wetlands, plowing more and more new territories for agricultural land, thereby oppressing the steppe harriers, driving them out of their places of permanent deployment, negatively affecting the bird's way of life. All this leads to the fact that the population of harriers is declining, birds need protection so as not to completely disappear from the face of our planet.
Protection of the steppe harrier
As it turned out, the number of harriers is very small, these feathered predators are endangered species of birds, therefore, are under the special protection of various environmental organizations. The steppe harrier is on the IUCN Red List. The bird is in the Red Book of the Russian Federation, as a species whose numbers are steadily declining.
An interesting fact: In 2007, the Bank of Russia issued a 1 ruble commemorative silver coin, which depicts a steppe harrier, it belongs to the Red Book series.
Steppe the harrier is listed in the second appendix of CITES, in appendices number 2 of the Bonn and Berne conventions. The bird is listed in the appendix of the agreement that was concluded between our country and India on special protective measures for migratory birds. The steppe harrier is protected in the territories of the following reserves:
- Central Black Earth.
Feathered is listed in the regional Red Books of various regions of our country. It is recommended to identify places of permanent nesting of birds and make them reserved, and among the local population to promote careful and caring attitude towards these rare and amazing birds in order to preserve this endangered species. Ornithologists believe that the most promising regions for all these events are the Trans-Ural steppes and Western Siberia.
It is hoped that all protective measures will have a positive result, and the steppe harrier will at least begin to stabilize in its numbers. The real lucky one is the one who was lucky enough to observe this stately and noble bird in the wild, because the flight of the harrier is very bewitching, and its swift dive down is amazing. No wonder the harrier chooses open spaces for his life, because in his character you can feel an independent predatory disposition and incredible love of freedom.