Swamp Harrier

Did you know?

Swamp Harriers are easily disturbed at the nest and will abandon their eggs and even downy young if approached by people.

Usually silent, but gives high pitched descending whistle in breeding display.
Facts and Figures
Research Species: 
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Breeding season: 
September to December
Clutch Size: 
Three to six.
33 days
Nestling Period: 
42 days
Conservation Status
Associated Plants
Basic Information
Scientific Name: 
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What does it look like?

The Swamp Harrier is a large slim-bodied raptor (bird of prey), with long slender legs and a long tail, rounded at the tip. It is mainly dark brown above and the white rump is prominent. It has an owl-like face mask. The wings are long and broad, with 5 'fingers' on the wing tips in flight. Females are larger with rufous underparts, while the smaller male is lighter underneath. The legs and eyes are yellow. This species has a slow sailing flight on up-swept wings, flying low over water. It is also known as the Marsh Harrier.

Similar species: 

The similar Spotted HarrierC. assimilis, is strikingly coloured and has a more boldly banded tail and dark wing-tips, rather than the banded wing-tips of the Swamp Harrier.

Where does it live?

The Swamp Harrier is widespread in Australasia and the South Pacific. It is the commonest raptor in New Zealand


The Swamp Harrier is found in terrestrial wetlands and open country of tropical and temperate Australia and New Zealand. It is mainly seen in fresh or salt wetlands, often in deep swamps with emergent reeds and over open water. In New Zealand it is more widely found, not just in wetlands.

Seasonal movements: 

Many of the Swamp Harriers in Australia move north in late summer and autumn and a few birds over-winter in Tasmania.They may migrate in groups and often roost communally (in groups) on the ground. These harriers may also disperse inland after heavy rain.

What does it do?

Swamp Harriers hunt for birds and eggs, large insects, frogs, reptiles and small mammals up to the size of hares or rabbits. When hunting they 'quarter', which means that they systematically search for prey by gliding low to the ground or water, then drop down on to their quarry. In New Zealand, Swamp Harriers often feed on carrion (dead animals).


The nest of the Swamp Harrier is made of straw and grasses, hidden above the water in dense reeds in a swamp or in crops or long grasses near water. They usually nest in single pairs. The female incubates and broods the young, while the male hunts for food. He transfers the food to the female in the air, before she feeds it to the young.

Living with us

Swamp Harriers are secure in Australia and are the commonest raptor in New Zealand.

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