Soaring with the hen harrier

Soaring with the hen harrier


Posted 16th Mar 2018


As our most persecuted bird of prey, the hen harrier's exuberant display in its upland homes could soon become a thing of the past

A bird of the British uplands, the ghostly grey males and larger browner female will arrive back to their summer home on heather moorland in the spring, while the male proceeds to set out his pitch.

He finds the best territory and then he dances! The rollercoaster ride of a display sees him climb into the air, then twisting and falling down before starting an acrobatic swoop skywards and back to start it all over again.

The male hen harrier's sky dance is a truly heart-lifting sight to behold.

When they're not courting, hen harriers hunt, quartering low over the moorland as they search for meadow pipits, skylarks, voles and the occasional grouse chick. That's where the problems set in.

The illegal persecution of the hen harrier has virtually driven the birds to the brink of extinction, and there are now less than a handful of the birds clinging around in the northern moorlands which are managed for grouse shooting. There is a real possibility that within the next few years, those last English pairs will have disappeared and the 'grey ghost' will no longer haunt our uplands.

How to do it

They may be a rare sight in England, but hen harriers can still be seen on the moors of Scotland and Wales, particularly when they're away from areas managed for grouse shooting. The strongest populations are on the Isle of Man and on Orkney, so head to the moors with walking boots, binoculars and a hip flask, and keep your eyes on the skies. They can also be seen out of the breeding season at winter roosts in places such as the New Forest, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. They will roost there overnight in small groups under cover in reedbeds.

If you can't get to the special places listed below...

If the current level of persecution continues, you'll soon only be able to see hen harriers online.

Special spots

The Isle of Man has managed to maintain a healthy population of hen harriers, with Manx Wildlife Trust nature reserves at Glen Dhoo and Dalby Mountainboth good spots to witness the birds sky dancing.

Denbighshire, Gors Maen Llwyd

Highlands, Ben Mor Coigach

Highlands, Isle of Eigg

Highlands, Rahoy Hills

Orkney, Hill of White Hamars

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts / image courtesy of © Amy Lewis





Related articles
Posted 27th Jul 2018

Ensuring your puppy gets enough brain food

Ensuring your puppy gets enough brain food


Posted 27th Jul 2018

The wonderful gooseberry

The wonderful gooseberry


Posted 27th Jul 2018

Staying in the Norfolk Broads

Staying in the Norfolk Broads


Posted 23rd Jul 2018

A look at Dudley Canal Tunnel

A look at Dudley Canal Tunnel


July issue on sale 7th June

Subscribe to our newsletter