What with all the storms passing through recently, I can’t help but think of how hard it must be for our wintering hen harriers to survive out there.

Luckily we know our hen harrier Chance is safe in France and data from her satellite tag shows that she has settled for the winter, north-east of Le Mans. It’s likely she’s found an area with a good supply of food. You can follow her movements here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/chance.html

Photo: Chance's wintering location in France

Some of our other satellite tagged birds in 2015 were not so lucky. In Bowland this year, one of our satellite tagged birds died along with two of its siblings before fledging the nest. The post-mortems and other tests on the three chicks, including the satellite tagged bird, were inconclusive – they had been partially eaten but we don’t know whether they were predated or scavenged. Our camera footage shows that the juveniles were alive at least two days after tagging and the weather was fair. The close proximity of the three bodies doesn’t suggest predation. We therefore suspect that they succumbed to either disease or starvation and were subsequently scavenged. Happily the fourth chick in the nest did survive and fledged successfully.

Some of you may also remember Hetty, a young female satellite tagged on the Isle of Man in July. Sadly she died about a month later and her body was found by our Investigations Team, 2km from her nest site. Again, post mortem results were inconclusive but she likely died of natural causes.

Young harriers do find it hard to survive and we know the added threat of illegal persecution makes reaching adulthood even harder.

This is why satellite tagging birds is necessary, so that we are able to retrieve bodies and send them for testing to work out the cause of death. Sat tags also allow us to identify important areas for hen harriers when they are alive and track the birds’ movements to understand their ecology.

If you agree satellite tagging is important and want to do something to help, Lush are still selling their hen harrier bath bombs over the Christmas period, proceeds of which directly fund our satellite tagging work! Pop along to your local store for some stocking fillers – or just go online: https://www.lush.co.uk/products/bath-bombs/skydancer-far-madding-guns

In answer to the blog title, all we want for Christmas is... your hen harrier sightings! If you're out on a winter walk this holiday and you see a hen harrier, please let us know.

In England - please call the Hen Harrier Hotline on 0845 4600121(calls charged at local rate). You can also e-mail reports to: henharriers@rspb.org.uk

In Scotland - please email or call the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland Heads up for Harriers scheme: henharrier@snh.gov.uk / 07767 671 973

If you'd rather stay in by the fire, you can listen to the RSPB’s Graham Jones on the Talking Naturally podcast about the plight of hen harriers and the RSPB’s commitment to help save the species, about 34 minutes in here:


Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a hen harrier-filled 2016!