If you’re lucky enough to have caught of glimpse of a hen harrier mid-flight, you’ll know how agile these incredible raptors are, gliding through the sky with their wings in the characteristic shallow V as they scour the land searching for prey. They feast on small mammals, birds and fowl.
Getting to know hen harriers
Hen harriers display sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look different. Males are pale grey on top and white underneath with black wingtips. Females and young are brown on top and streaked below. Their tail is banded, giving them the nickname, ringtail.
Habitat and distribution
Hen harriers have a wide range and are found across much of Europe, Asia, and North America. They inhabit open areas such as forests, shrublands, and moorlands, as well as wetlands and managed areas such as plantations and agricultural land.
They are migratory species, spending the summer breeding in upland areas before heading to the lowlands and coastal regions for winter.
Hen harriers are ground-nesting birds that build their nests out of vegetation such as heather. Females tend to stay with the nest while males head out hunting for food which they may throw impressively through the air to females who sit ready to catch it!
Males are well-known for their courtship ritual and ability to dance their way into the heart of females. Their spectacular sky dance takes place over breeding grounds in late March and early May and involves circling, swooping, sweeping and rolling. It’s a sight not to miss!
While hen harriers are listed as Least Concern by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species their population is thought to be decreasing across their range.
Habitat destruction due to agriculture is one of the biggest threats to hen harriers, but in some areas, like the UK, persecution poses a huge threat. They are UK’s most persecuted bird of prey and as such are on the UK’s Red List of UK birds of conservation concern. They are also a Schedule 1 species under the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The reason for the illegal persecution is their predation on grouse and their apparent impact on numbers on managed grouse moors.
Hen Harrier Day
This Saturday, the 8th of August, is Hen Harrier Day, a day to come together and take action against the illegal persecution of hen harriers and other birds of prey in the UK.
An annual event
Hen Harrier Day is an annual event that’s been running since 2014, with the aim of bringing an end to wildlife crime. Usually, it is an opportunity for passionate people to come together outdoors to celebrate wildlife and spread the word of their essential conservation. This year though, because of Covid-19, Hen Harrier Day is going online for the first time with Chris Packham and his stepdaughter, Megan McCubbin, as hosts.
Hen Harrier Day will live stream on YouTube from 10 – 4 (UK time) on the 8th August.
There is lots going on, from opportunities to learn more about hen harriers and their conservation to songs, interviews, poetry readings and more. Find out more on the Hen Harrier Day website, Tune in here – https://www.youtube.com/HenHarrierDayUK and, most importantly, spread the word!