Gaining A Better Understanding Of Hen Harrier Behaviour To Improve It’s Future In England

The Hawk and Owl Trust, of which I am proud to be a Vice-President, is assisting in parts of a six-point plan initiated by the government to restore the population of English Hen Harriers which are close to extinction as a breeding species.

harrier-5The Hen Harrier is an elegant bird of prey that frequents the heather uplands of northern England. The male is spectacularly beautiful with its silver-grey plumage and black primaries. The female, is larger and her plumage is an overall chocolate-brown. She has a white patch on her rump and her tail is barred with darker bands.

The Hen Harrier is a controversial bird, because over a short period in the summer, amongst other prey items, it kills Red grouse chicks to feed its young and this has brought it into conflict with those who intensively manage the moors for driven grouse shooting.

The population of breeding Hen Harriers in England has fluctuated wildly over the last twenty years. In 2013 it was extinct as a breeding bird. This year, 2016, there were only three breeding pairs.


Scientists tell us that the heather moorlands of northern England could support 250 – 300 pairs.

harrier-3As part of this recovery plan Natural England, on behalf of the Hawk and Owl Trust, have recently satellite tagged two juvenile Hen Harriers, a male and a female, from the Scottish borders, literally a stone’s throw from England. A Hawk and Owl trustee, watched as Stephen Murphy from Natural England adjusted the harness carrying the satellite tag.

It is thought that the information gained will improve our understanding of harrier dispersal from their natal areas, their dispersal across the heather uplands and their communal roost sites in winter where they are most vulnerable to persecution.

Stephen Murphy sets the satellite tag on a 10:48 pattern. It will record for 10 hours and then re-charge over the next 48 hours in daylight.

harrier-1The satellite data received, when the tagged harriers have left their natal area, will be displayed on the Hawk and Owl Trust web-site where you will be able to follow the fortunes of the juvenile Hen Harriers, which have been named Rowan and Sorrel.

Follow their progress on our web site: