At 43 to 54 cm long, a wingspan of 115 to 130 cm and a weight of 400 to 650 g in males and 500 to 800 g in females this is a large, bulky harrier with fairly broad wings. The male's plumage is mostly a cryptic reddish-brown with lighter yellowish streaks. The head and shoulders are mostly pale greyish-yellowish. The rectrices and remiges are pure grey. The upperside and underside of the wing look similar, though the brown is lighter on the underwing. Flying males appear three-colored brown-grey-black. The legs, feet, irides and the cere of the black bill are yellow. The female is almost entirely chocolate-brown. The top of the head, the throat and the shoulders have of a conspicuously lighter yellowish colour.

Habitat and Distribution

It breeds in almost all of Europe , avoiding mountainous regions and subarctic Scandinavia. It is rare but increasing in Great Britain. In the Middle East there are populations in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, while in Central Asia the range extends eastwards as far as north-west China, Mongolia and the Lake Baikal region of Siberia. Some birds winter in milder regions of southern and western Europe, while others migrate to the Sahel, Nile basin and Great Lakes region in Africa, or to Arabia, the Indian subcontinent and Myanmar. It is common in wetland areas, but can be found in farmland and grassland particularly border marshland.


It feeds on small mammals, small birds, insects, reptiles, and frogs.


Breeding begins from mid-March to early May. The males often pair with two and usually three females. The ground nest is made of sticks, reeds and grasses. It is usually built in a reedbed, but the species will also nest in arable fields. There are between three and eight eggs in a normal clutch. The eggs are oval in shape and white in colour, with a bluish or greenish tinge when recently laid. The eggs are incubated for 31-38 days and the young birds fledge after 35-40 days.