Montagu’s loggerhead tortoise, elected Bird of the Year 2023 by popular vote

Montagu’s Harrier was chosen as Bird of the Year 2023 in the annual popular vote organized by the Spanish Society of Ornithology (SEO/BirdLife) to draw attention in favor of endangered species due to population decline or threats to their conservation.

The intensification of agriculture, pesticides, early harvests, the increase in woody crops and the elimination of limits and fallow seriously affect this species. The Montagu Harrier is one of the birds that generates the most mobilization due to its great decline in agricultural environments, proof of this is the work carried out by the Grupo Ibérico de Aguiluchos over several decades and the actions carried out on the ground by numerous local SEO groups. /birdlife.

To date, the organization has announced 33 bird species of the year due to population decline or conservation threats. After an open and participative poll, the Montagu Harrier was chosen by 3,187 votes as Bird of the Year 2023, followed by the common vulture with 2,355 votes and the iberian bargain with 2,105 votes. The three candidates for this edition are threatened and, therefore, included in the Red Book of Birds in Spain and in the III Atlas of Birds in the Breeding Period in Spaina key publication to learn about the distribution, trends and populations of the 450 species that are detected in Spain in spring.

The montagu harrier It is a good representative of the uniqueness and ecological value of the cereal farming environments where it lives. Few birds of prey are as connected to human activities as this one, a species that, in Spain, depends a lot on the large cultivated areas of cereals.

Through this species we will sensitize politicians, farmers and citizens in general to the importance of keeping our fields alive

ruiz assumption

“Through this species, we are going to make politicians, farmers and the population in general aware of the importance of keeping our gardens alive. For the Montagu Harrier, it is necessary to find joint solutions that avoid the destruction of nests during the harvest season and ensure the maintenance and support of farming systems that are more respectful of biodiversity. We must guarantee policies and aid that preserve the chicks and the farmers who have them on their land”, assured Asunción Ruiz, executive director of SEO/BirdLife.

Ruiz added that “the legal protection of a species is not enough. The message that the hunting harrier sends us is that it is not enough to protect, it is necessary to act to conserve. And that conserving is an opportunity to guarantee the future of the local communities that live in, from and through the countryside”. This migratory bird of prey, which winters in Africa, can be seen across the Iberian Peninsula flying over open fields from spring to late summer.

Decline of the Egyptian vulture between 1998-2018. /SEO/BirdLife

Threats and peculiarities of the species

Agricultural intensification is one of its main threats, as harvesters destroy nests and chicks. The use of pesticides also reduces the number of prey, causing their populations to have a very important decline.

The hunting harrier is a bird of prey that depends heavily on the large cultivated areas of wheat and barley, where, in the absence of the large meadows that constitute its preferred habitat elsewhere, it establishes its nests. In exchange for staying on the plantations, the Montagu Harrier eliminates huge amounts of rats, mice, grasshoppers, small reptiles and granivorous birds, which are their usual prey.

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Montagu’s Harrier eliminates huge amounts of rats, mice, grasshoppers, small reptiles and granivorous birds, which are its usual prey.

The transformation of rainfed cereal crops into irrigated or woody, intensive agricultural practices, the reduction of limits and fallows and, above all, the early harvesting of crops are seriously affecting this species. Also the persecution of this bird of prey, as it is a species that occasionally attacks game species, has been a cause of mortality of the hunting harrier.

While the 2006 census recorded between 5,818 and 6,934 couples, the latest 2017 census counted between 4,269 and 5,360. In just one decade, nearly 1,500 pairs were lost, a drop of between 23% and 27%.

The biggest declines were observed in Galicia, Andalusia, Extremadura, Madrid or Euskadi. In general, a strong and widespread decline is observed in the western half. According to data from the last state census, Spain is the most important European country for the species at numerical level, followed by France, with 3,800-5,100 pairs, or Poland, with between 3,000-4,000 pairs. Therefore, Spain has a great responsibility in the conservation of this species on a global scale and must act accordingly, say SEO/Bird.

Actions for its conservation in 2023

The organization has announced several actions to favor the Montagu Harrier that will also benefit other species with which it shares a habitat. Your objective is the survival of a large number of specimens in key areas. However, the conservationist organization points out that they are not the solution to all the problems suffered by eagles throughout the territory, which is why it calls for a more profound change in the agrarian model. To this end, this year, 2023, it will ask the autonomous communities to adopt specific agri-environmental measures for areas of interest to the hunting harrier.

Distribution of the Montagu Harrier in the Iberian Peninsula. /SEO/BirdLife

The protection of birds requires means, funds and compensatory measures

In order to protect the nests during harvesting work, it is necessary to provide means, funds and compensatory measures to farmers, highlights the organization, which also advocates taking measures in crops. These include delayed harvesting, conservation of boundaries and fallow land managed to promote biodiversity in at least 10% of the surface.

On the other hand, SEO/Birdlife defends the responsible use of renewable energies, and announces that it will work to ensure that wind and photovoltaic projects or new electrical lines are not implemented in key territories for the species.

In the wind farms already installed in the areas where the species lives, the organization will require the establishment of periods of stoppage in the reproductive season, and even the possibility of total stoppage of activity during the months in which the species is found in Spain.

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