Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 153, Issue 1, pp 85–93 | Cite as

Migration and wintering areas of adult Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) breeding in Spain

  • Ruben LimiñanaEmail author
  • Alvaro Soutullo
  • Vicente Urios
  • Abilio Reig-Ferrer
Original Article


Between 2006 and 2008, 14 Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus) were tagged with satellite transmitters at their breeding grounds in NE Spain, recording a total of 18 autumn and 10 spring journeys. In both autumn and spring migrations, harriers migrated between Europe and West Africa along a relatively narrow corridor between the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara and the western border of Algeria. Birds tended to follow a slightly more westerly track during spring migration compared to autumn migration. Harriers started autumn migration in late August–early September, arriving at their wintering grounds in early–mid-September, after travelling between 8 and 25 days, and covering a mean of 187 km a day. Spring migration started in mid-March, with birds arriving at the breeding grounds in mid-April after covering a mean of 114 km a day. On average, spring migration lasted longer, with birds covering longer distances than during autumn migration, and distances travelled in a day tended to be shorter. Significant differences in the routes followed by harriers were observed among seasons and individuals, with the same individuals following different routes in different years. Wintering areas were located in northern Senegal and the southern border of Mauritania with Mali, with some birds breeding in the same colony in Europe separated more than 1,200 km during the wintering season. Birds showed a relatively high fidelity to their wintering areas. Several birds moved from one area to another during the wintering period, which resulted in larger wintering areas, whereas others remained in the same area during the whole wintering season.


Autumn migration Migration routes Migration timing Repeated migrations Satellite tracking Spring migration 


Zwischen 2006 und 2008 wurden 14 Wiesenweihen (Circus pygargus) in ihren Brutgebieten in Nordostspanien mit Satellitensendern versehen und insgesamt 18 Herbst- und zehn Frühjahrszugwege aufgezeichnet. Sowohl auf dem Herbst- als auch auf dem Frühjahrszug zogen die Weihen zwischen Europa und Westafrika in einem relativ engen Korridor zwischen der Küste Marokkos und der westlichen Sahara und der Westgrenze von Algerien. Die Vögel tendierten dazu, auf dem Frühjahrszug einem etwas westlicheren Kurs verglichen mit dem Herbstzug zu folgen. Die Weihen begannen mit dem Herbstzug Ende August bis Anfang September und kamen in ihren Überwinterungsgebieten Anfang bis Mitte September an, nachdem sie zwischen acht und 25 Tage geflogen waren und im Mittel 187 km pro Tag zurückgelegt hatten. Der Frühjahrszug setzte Mitte März ein, und die Vögel trafen Mitte April in ihren Brutgebieten ein, wobei sie im Mittel 114 km pro Tag flogen. Der Frühjahrszug dauerte im Durchschnitt länger als der Herbstzug, die Vögel legten größere Entfernungen zurück, und die an einem Tag zurückgelegte Entfernung war tendenziell kürzer. Zwischen verschiedenen Saisons und Individuen wurden signifikante Unterschiede in den von den Weihen geflogenen Routen beobachtet, und dieselben Tiere nutzten verschiedene Routen in verschiedenen Jahren. Die Überwinterungsgebiete lagen in Nordsenegal und an der Südgrenze Mauretaniens zu Mali. Einige Vögel, die in Europa in derselben Kolonie brüteten, überwinterten mehr als 1,200 km voneinander entfernt. Die Weihen zeigten eine relativ ausgeprägte Treue zu ihren Überwinterungsgebieten. Einige Vögel zogen während der Überwinterungsperiode von einem Gebiet zu einem anderen, was in insgesamt größeren Überwinterungsgebieten resultierte, wohingegen andere während der gesamten Wintersaison im selben Gebiet blieben.



We are indebted to Aeropuerto de Castellón for supporting and funding the project on the study of the ecology of Montagu’s Harrier in Castellón. We are grateful to Servicio de Biodiversidad from Conselleria de Medio Ambiente, Agua, Urbanismo y Vivienda (Generalitat Valenciana) for giving trapping and tagging permissions, and special thanks are due to Juan Jiménez and Martín Surroca. We are grateful to Pascual López, Ugo Mellone and Diego Pavón for their help in trapping and tagging the harriers, as well as for their comments on an early draft on the manuscript; Pascual López also helped to draw the final version of the migration maps. F. Sergio, A. Tanferna, V. Bretagnolle and H. Mouritsen also provided insightful comments on an early draft of the manuscript. R.L. has a postdoctoral grant (reference 10/12-C) co-funded by Consejería de Educación y Ciencia (Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha) and the European Social Fund. The present work complies with the current laws in Spain.


  1. Agostini N, Logozzo D (1997) Autumn migration of Accipitriformes through Italy en route to Africa. Avocetta 21:174–179Google Scholar
  2. Alerstam T, Hake M, Kjellén N (2006) Temporal and spatial patterns of repeated migratory journeys by ospreys. Anim Behav 71:555–566CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Costa DP, Robinson PW, Arnould JPY, Harrison A-L, Simmons SE, Hassrick JL, Hoskins AJ, Kirkman SP, Oosthuizen H, Villegas-Amtmann S, Crocker DE (2010) Accuracy of ARGOS locations of pinnipeds at-Sea estimated using fastloc GPS. PLoS ONE 5(1):e8677. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0008677
  4. Coyne MS, Godley BJ (2005) Satellite tracking and analysis tool (STAT): an integrated system for archiving, analyzing and mapping animal tracking data. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 301:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cramp S, Simmons KEL (1980) The birds of the Western Palaearctic, vol 2. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Fuller MR, Seegar WS, Schueck L (1998) Routes and travel rates of migrating peregrine falcons Falco peregrinus and Swainson’s hawks Buteo swainsoni in the Western Hemisphere. J Avian Biol 29:433–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. García JT, Arroyo BE (1998) Migratory movements of Montagu’s Harriers Circus pygargus: a review. Bird Study 45:188–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gill RE, Tibbitts TL, Douglas DC, Handel CM, Mulcahy DM, Gottschalck JC, Warnock N, McCaffery BJ, Battley PF, Piersma T (2009) Extreme endurance flights by landbirds crossing the Pacific Ocean: ecological corridor rather than barrier? Proc R Soc Lond B 276:447–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gschweng M, Kalko EKV, Querner U, Fiedler W, Berthold P (2008) All across Africa: highly individual migration routes of Eleonora’s falcon. Proc R Soc Lond B 275:2887–2896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gunnarsson TG, Gill JA, Newton J, Potts PM, Sutherland WJ (2005) Seasonal matching of habitat quality and fitness in a migratory bird. Proc R Soc Lond B 272:2319–2323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hooge PN, Eichenlaub B (1997) Animal movement extension to Arcview. Alaska Science Centre, Biological Science Office, U.S. Geological Survey, AnchorageGoogle Scholar
  12. Jenness J (2006) Center of mass (center_of_mass.avx) extension for ArcView 3.x. Jenness Enterprises. Available at:
  13. Kenward RE (2001) A manual for wildlife radio tagging. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Klaassen RHG, Strandberg R, Hake M, Alerstam T (2008) Flexibility in daily travel routines causes regional variation in bird migration speed. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:1427–1432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Klaassen RHG, Strandberg R, Hake M, Olofsson P, Tottrup AP, Alerstam T (2010) Loop migration in adult marsh harriers Circus aeruginosus as revealed by satellite telemetry. J Avian Biol 41:200–2007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Limiñana R, Soutullo A, Urios V (2007) Autumn migration of Montagu’s harriers Circus pygargus tracked by satellite telemetry. J Ornithol 148:517–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Limiñana R, Soutullo A, López-López P, Urios V (2008) Pre-migratory movements of adult Montagu’s harriers Circus pygargus. Ardea 96(1):81–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. López-López P, Limiñana R, Urios V (2009) Autumn migration of Eleonora’s falcon Falco eleonorae tracked by satellite telemetry. Zool Stud 48:485–491Google Scholar
  19. López-López P, Limiñana R, Mellone U, Urios V (2010) From the Mediterranean Sea to Madagascar: are there ecological barriers for the long-distance migrant Eleonora’s falcon? Landsc Ecol 25:803–813CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McGrady MJ, Maechtle TL, Vargas JJ, Seegar WS, Porras Peña MC (2002) Migration and ranging of peregrine falcons wintering on the Gulf of Mexico coast, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Condor 104:39–48Google Scholar
  21. Mouritsen H (2003) Spatiotemporal orientation strategies of long-distance migrants. In: Berthold P, Gwinner E, Sonnenschein E (eds) Avian migration. Springer, Berlin, pp 493–513Google Scholar
  22. Newton I (2004) Population limitation in migrants. Ibis 146:197–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Norris DR (2005) Carry-over effects and habitat quality in migratory populations. Oikos 109:178–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shamoun-Baranes J, Baharad A, Alpert P, Berthold P, Yom-Tov Y, Dvir Y, Leshem Y (2003) The effect of wind, season and latitude on the migration speed of white storks Ciconia ciconia, along the eastern migration route. J Avian Biol 34:97–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Soutullo A, Cadahía L, Urios V, Ferrer M, Negro JJ (2007) Accuracy of lightweight satellite telemetry: a case study in Iberian Peninsula. J Wildl Manag 71:1010–1015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Strandberg R, Klaassen RHG, Hake M, Olofsson P, Thorup K, Alerstam T (2008) Complex timing of Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus migration due to pre- and post-migratory movements. Ardea 96:159–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Strandberg R, Klaassen RHG, Hake M, Olofsson P, Alerstam T (2009) Converging migration routes of Eurasian hobbies Falco subbuteo crossing the African equatorial rain forest. Proc R Soc Lond B 276:727–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Thiollay JM (2006) The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas. Ibis 148:240–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Trierweiler C, Koks BJ (2009) Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus. In: Zwarts L, Bijlsma RG, van der Kamp J, Wymenga E (eds) Living on the edge: wetlands and birds in a changing Sahel. KNNV, Zeist, pp 312–327Google Scholar
  30. Trierweiler C, Koks BJ, Drent RH, Exo K-M, Komdeur J, Dijkstra C, Bairlein F (2007) Satellite tracking of two Montagu’s harriers (Circus pygargus): dual pathways during autumn migration. J Ornithol 148:513–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruben Limiñana
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alvaro Soutullo
    • 1
    • 3
  • Vicente Urios
    • 1
  • Abilio Reig-Ferrer
    • 1
  1. 1.Grupo de Investigación Zoología de Vertebrados, CIBIOUniversidad de AlicanteAlicanteSpain
  2. 2.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos, IREC-CSIC-UCLM-JCCMCiudad RealSpain
  3. 3.Museo Nacional de Historia NaturalMontevideoUruguay

Personalised recommendations