March, 2013


Get the latest news on our hen harrier conservation work, including the five-year Hen Harrier Life+ project.

Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers

Follow the efforts of RSPB staff during the breeding season, as they attempt to monitor and protect one of England's rarest breeding birds of prey - the hen harrier.
  • Fancy knitting a hen harrier?

    Check out these amazing knitted hen harriers! Inspired by the Skydancer project, enterprising volunteers Fariha and Siobhán picked up their knitting needles and created these fantastic hen harrier hand puppets for our education volunteers to use in primary schools. 

    The puppets have been a huge hit with the children and Fariha and Siobhán would now like to share their knitting pattern with you in the hope that we can create a whole flock of knitted hen harriers...! 

    Here’s what Fariha Quraishi, RSPB Volunteer, had to say about it:

    “After hearing about the bad year hen harriers had last year, I was inspired to take action. A chat with my fellow RSPB volunteer Siobhán provided a flash of inspiration and we both seized our knitting needles and set about making a pair of hen harrier hand puppets. 

    It took a few attempts, and a bit of perseverance, but after about a month the puppets were finished and ready for their first sky dancing display. They are now being used as part of the RSPB’s Skydancer project within schools and communities in northern England, raising awareness of hen harriers and promoting their conservation. I’m really happy that I could do something useful when the bad weather kept me indoors.” 

    So what are you waiting for? Whether you’d like to help us inspire the next generation about these amazing birds by donating a set of puppets to the project, or simply fancy owning your very own pair of skydancing hen harriers, simply download the free pattern and instructions from the skydancer webpage here and get knitting! 

    We would love you to send us photos of your finished puppets, so we can post them here on the blog! Please email your pictures to 

  • Hen harriers over the Geltsdale hills

    Despite the ice and snow, it was a glorious day at Geltsdale yesterday. It's been a better winter for roosting hen harriers this year than it has been for a long time, so as the landscape gradually thaws, we're keeping fingers and toes crossed that some stick around to breed.

    Just picture it - you're out for a walk, it's a beautiful day and out of the corner of your eye you spot something against the skyline over those hills... you pull out your binoculars, hurriedly twist them into focus and there it is - there's no mistaking it, a skydancing male hen harrier in full flight!

    We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

  • North Tynedale: Glad to be Back

    Stephen Temperley returns to Skydancer this month, reprising his role coordinating the North Tynedale hen harrier nest protection project. As the breeding season gets underway in earnest, he has some positive early news...

    Greetings from the RSPB Species Protection Coordinator for Northumberland! I'm back in post and happy to inform you that covert monitoring for signs of site interest, territoriality and pairing has already begun. A small number of expert volunteers and myself are once again watching over the sites from the margins, taking care to minimise disturbance by keeping at least 1 km away from key nest locations favoured in the past.

    It's exciting to be out and searching again but that wind cuts right through you! The North Tynedale site is an elevated plateau (290-320 m) scored by steep ridges and flowing valleys. Open to the strong easterlies arriving unhindered from the North Sea, it can be difficult to find suitably panoramic viewpoints out of the bitter wind. However, I'm pleased to say that our discomfort has already been well rewarded with hen harrier sightings!

    Female hen harrier (c) James Leonard

    An adult male almost certainly roosted on site as early as the 1st of March, in the same expanse of leggy heather that the last breeding male (2008) liked to roost in while his partner was on the nest. The same individual, perhaps, drawn back to old haunts? If not it would be quite some coincidence. But very encouraging either way, particularly when a further sighting was reported of (probably) the same grey male appearing briefly out of thick mist a week or so later. This week has yielded two sightings (Tuesday and Thursday) of a very pale adult female, seen both foraging and resting up on site.

    Winter numbers across Northumberland have been very much more buoyant than in recent years, which bodes well for the upcoming breeding season. At least we can't do worse than in the last four years, when not a single pair was known to have bred in the county.

    So, an auspicious beginning, especially considering the weather over the last few weeks. Like sprinters in the blocks, we are ready and waiting.

    If you think you've seen a hen harrier anywhere in the North of England, please let us know by calling the hen harrier hotline on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rates) or email Information on when and where it was (grid reference is helpful), what it was doing, and what it looked like, will help us to keep track of these birds and identify where they might be nesting.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!