For the past few months, Live Interpretation volunteer, Mark Baldwin, has been sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge, informing us about the interesting lives and evolution of our marsh harriers. This week, Mark is very excited...

They are back...Our male marsh harriers are back for the breeding season at Leighton Moss! So, put on your red shoes but no need to dance the blues, because spring has arrived so let's sky dance!

The strikingly beautiful male marsh harrier by David Mower.

Harriers in general, are well known worldwide for their sky dance courtship flight display. Our marsh harrier species is the most athletic and the biggest show off of all the British harriers. Firstly the male rises high into the air, hundreds of feet, as though indicating that the dance begins. He summersaults, twists and turns, sways, rockets high and sweeps down low looping the loop like an out of control plane. He tucks his wings in and plummets down, sucking the air through his wings making an audible sound. He plummets his decent of approximately 200 feet and falls like a falling leaf in the Autumn. This manoeuvre is known as  "the Drop Leaf".

A male marsh harrier soaring above his reedbed kingdom by Martin Kuchczynski.

He will either repeat this display or he will drop into the reed bed. When the female is suitably impressed, she will join him. Together they will perform. The male will make a mock charge at her and she will turn upside down to display their talons to each other, as if in a food pass. The sky dance itself is meant to show a dominant male holding an ideal territory. Performing high in the sky displays his prowess to watching females and also to rival males, signaling to keep out of his territory. It shows the male off to his best advantage, showing  fitness, stamina and agility. Usually it favours the more experienced male bird. The female requires a great provider of food for both herself and their off spring. She will task the male to bring a good supply of food to her. He must prove himself to be a worthy mate and to provide good genes for any potential chicks.

The impressive food pass takes place during the breeding season by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com).

I observed this display on Monday 6 March in the early afternoon, above the trees at Lillian's hide. An amazing spectacle, and a joy to witness. It was a clear day and the sun was shinning, and the moon was also visible, so it was under the serious moonlight!

This spectacular display takes place during March and into early April. Make sure to visit Leighton Moss to witness for yourself this springtime marvel.

Hope to see you on the reserve soon,

Mark!

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