Help needed to spot rare Hen Harriers

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The public is being asked to report any hen harrier sightings this year by the ‘Heads Up for Harriers’ project group.

Run by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland), this is one part of the effort to help rare hen harriers.

Hen harriers frequent many Scottish moors, where their acrobatic aerial courtship displays are a tell-tale sign of breeding activity. But their distribution and numbers are still restricted in some areas.

A number of causes, including illegal persecution, land use changes and predation, have resulted in a reduction in hen harrier numbers, to the point that the hen harrier is now one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey.

In reality, however, many factors are likely to come into play – and the project wants to determine these.

Building upon the successes of 2015, when 10 young hen harriers fledged from five participating estates, the Heads Up for Harriers group is extending the project across Scotland.

Nest cameras are being used to monitor breeding success at these nests and to help determine some possible causes for any breeding failure.

Locating hen harrier nest sites largely relies on the great work of members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and sightings submitted by the public.

This year is special, however, as there is a national survey of hen harriers, so the project is hoping for a bumper crop of sightings.

Project Officer Wendy Mattingley is responsible for co-ordinating sightings, which in turn help direct fieldwork.

She said: “While we do know of historical nesting sites, there is no guarantee that birds will return to the exact location each year. So it’s vital to the success of the project and our understanding of the threats facing these wonderful birds that we receive sightings.”

Male hen harriers are distinctive, with a pale, ash-grey colour, black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre. Female hen harriers are slightly larger, with an owl-like ‘face’ and mottled brown plumage.

The Heads Up for Harriers Project has a dedicated sightings hotline number and e-mail address. E-mail sightings to: here or call 07767 671973.