August, 2014


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.
  • Hope and Burt are still in Bowland!

    As promised, here is the second of what I hope will be many updates from Bowland's sat tagged harriers.

    Hope and Burt, sister and brother, fitted with sat tags on the 28th July have been flying for about 4.5 weeks now.

    They are a full month younger than Skydancer and Highlander and those four weeks are very obvious when looking at the downloads from their satellite transmitters. Where Skydancer and Highlander are now very independent and have almost cut the ties with their nest area, Hope and Burt are still very reliant on the area from which they fledged.

    You can see from the maps below, both Hope and Burt, although they are making forays away from their nest site, are still returning to the nest area presumably when they maybe haven't eaten for a while and decide their best bet is to head back to where they know they can catch prey or where they know they might still come into some reassuring contact with one of their parents or siblings.

    It is especially apparent when looking at Hope's data that her flight paths are almost creating the shape of a star as she makes explorations in all directions of the compass from the nest area. In a few weeks time she probably wont be creating these patterns anymore and she'll have decided on an area, with a good food source and suitable roosting areas, to settle down in for a while. But ... you never know. The first rule with hen harriers is ... never second guess a hen harrier, as we learnt so well with Bowland Betty.

    An interesting observation is how much further afield Hope is travelling in comparison to Burt. Is this a male/female trait or just a difference between these two individuals? Male birds tagged by Stephen Murphy in the past have gone as far as France and northern Spain. Only time will tell us where Burt will decide to head.  

    Hope's locations over the last 5 days.

    Burt's more sedentary activity!


  • Is it a buzzard or is it a hen harrier!?

    Adult male and female hen harriers look very different, sexually dimorphic. They both have long wings and tail with a white rump (a great ID feature). They fly with their wings raised in a shallow ‘V’, flying close to the ground when hunting.

    The male is blue/grey above with white underparts and black wing tips and trailing edge.

    Male Hen harrier

    The female is very similar to the young, to keep them camouflaged while on the nest. The collective term is ‘Ringtail’ due to the brown bands on their tails. They are brown above with barred wings and a streaked breast. Their face has an owl like appearance.

    Female Hen harrier

    A buzzard may be confused with a hen harrier; one way to help with this is look at what habitat it is in. In the breeding season hen harriers are found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys.

    Buzzards are the most frequently seen medium-sized birds of prey. They have broader wings and shorter tails than the harriers or red kites. Their plumage can vary from a uniform dark brown to much paler colours. Underneath they have dark shoulders with a pale mid-wing and adults have a dark trailing edge. A good ID feature is a pale band around their chest and no owl like face.


    If you see a hen harrier, please call The Harrier Hotline number on 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate).  Reports can also be e-mailed to  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

  • Great turn out at Glendale Show

    Thank you to all the people who dropped in for a chat and some hen harrier arts and crafts at Glendale Show on bank holiday Monday. Some great conversations were had with lots of children and adults as well as a hunter from Malta with her daughter and a local game keeper showing his support.

    We will be at Bellingham Show this Saturday 30th Aug, stop by to make your own flappy hen harrier or a hen harrier chick.

    Follow us on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer.