Help conserve our persecuted birds of prey
AS spring approaches, the RSPB is calling on eagled-eyed wildlife fans who enjoy walking in the Peak District to keep a look out for hen harriers, one of England’s rarest birds of prey.
And this, hard on the heels of my piece last week about bird of prey persecution. It’s great news, the more people on the hill, the more chance there is of walkers spotting the birds, and hopefully those that would destroy these absolute beauties may have second thoughts, although experience tells me that old habits die hard.
The nature conservation charity has relaunched its Hen Harrier Hotline in the hope of finding out where these birds might be breeding, so here’s your chance to join in. In particular, can I encourage the members of the Glossop Birdwatch and Wildlife Facebook group to do their bit? This group, for me, is one the best local social media pages, full of enthusiasm and some cracking photographs. This week alone has seen photographs of barn owls and brown hares, and some wonderfully evocative reports of returning lapwings and curlews.
At this time of year, the male hen harrier performs his courtship display known as sky-dancing, involving a spectacular series of swoops and somersaults. If he is fortunate enough to attract a female, he then proves his worth as a mate by passing her food offerings in mid-air.
Scientists estimate there is sufficient habitat in England to provide a home to around 300 pairs of breeding hen harriers.
But last year there were only three successful nests in the whole country.
Hen harriers are in trouble largely because of ongoing illegal persecution. This is because they sometimes eat red grouse, which can make them unwelcome on moors managed for grouse shooting.
This type of shooting requires huge numbers of red grouse and some game managers feel they need to illegally kill or disturb harriers to protect their business.
Amanda Miller, conservation manager for the RSPB in northern England, said: “The past few breeding seasons have been disastrous for England’s hen harriers and sadly there appears to be no let up in the illegal killing and disturbance of these magnificent birds.
“If we can find out where these birds are breeding, we can deploy specialist staff to protect the nests, thereby giving them the best chance of success.
“We can also fit them with satellite tags enabling us to track their movements once they have fledged.”
Male hen harriers are an ash-grey colour with black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre.
They are sometimes known as ghost-birds because of the pale colour of their plumage.
Female hen harriers are slightly larger, are owl-like in appearance, and have a mottled brown plumage, which camouflages them when they nest on the ground.
They have horizontal stripes on their tails, giving them the nickname ringtail and a patch of white just above, on the rump. The Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate).
Reports can also be emailed to henharriers@ rspb.org.uk.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop