Why we’re tagging two hen harriers

The 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 there were only three breeding pairs. Experts tell us that the heather moorlands of northern England could support 250 – 300 pairs.

As part of this recovery plan Natural England, on behalf of the Hawk and Owl Trust, have recently satellite tagged two juvenile female Hen Harriers from the Scottish borders. Jemima Parry-Jones, Hawk and Owl trustee, watches as Stephen Murphy from Natural England adjusts the harness carrying the satellite tag.

It is hoped 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 sets the satellite tag on a 10:48 pattern. It will transmit for 10 hours and then recharge in daylight over the next 48 hours.

The satellite data received, when the tagged harriers have left their natal area, will be displayed on this website where you will be able to follow the fortunes of the Hen Harriers, which have been named Sorrel and Rowan.