Hen Harrier by Mark Hamblin

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Key Facts

  • Length: 48-55cm
  • Wingspan: 1.1m
  • Weight: 350-500g
  • Average Lifespan: 7 years

Hen harriers nest on the ground amongst heather on upland moorlands and winter in the lowlands, particularly around the coast, on heathland and on farmland.

They are currently the most endangered breeding bird of prey in England: hen harriers feed on small grouse and fowl (hence their name) which brings them into conflict with gamekeepers and farmers.

How to Identify

Hen harriers are slim birds. Males are blue-grey with a white rump, pale underside and black wing tips. Females are brown above, streaky below, with a white rump and a banded tail.

Where to Find

Nests in Scotland and parts of upland Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. Only a tiny handful of pairs now nest in parts of upland England. Winters in small and decreasing numbers throughout Britain.

How People Can Help

Hen harriers are one of our most persecuted birds, shot and poisoned for taking game species. Coupled with widespread damage to their wetland and heathland habitats, they have suffered massive declines. Various initiatives are now in place to help this beautiful bird to survive. The Wildlife Trusts are working closely with farmers and landowners towards a ‘Living Landscape’: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country which are good for both wildlife and people. You can support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Did you know?

Female hen harriers are known as ‘Ring-tails’ due to the distinctive tail banding. Both females and males attend the young – the males providing food which is often passed, mid-air to the female, in a spectacular display of ‘throw and catch’.

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