Understanding the ecology of migratory birds during the non-breeding season is necessary for ensuring their conservation. Using satellite telemetry data we describe winter ranging behaviour and movements of pallid harriers Circus macrourus that bred in Kazakhstan. We developed an ecological niche model for the species in Africa, to identify the most suitable wintering areas for pallid harriers and the importance of habitat in determining the location of those areas. We also assessed how well represented suitable areas are in the network of protected areas. Individual harriers showed relatively high fidelity to wintering areas but with potential for interannual changes. The ecological niche model highlighted the importance of open habitats with natural vegetation. Most suitable areas for the species were located in eastern Africa. Suitable areas had a patchy distribution but were relatively well included in the network of protected areas. The preferential use of habitats with natural vegetation by wintering pallid harriers and the patchiness of the most suitable areas highlight the harrier's vulnerability to land-use changes and the associated loss of natural vegetation in Africa. Conservation of harriers could be enhanced by preserving natural grasslands within protected areas and improving habitat management in the human-influenced portions of the species’ core wintering areas.