Newly tagged Hen Harrier in northern Scotland as part of a charity species monitoring project

A male Hen Harrier in flight – the project hopes to shed light on their behavior. Photo: Andy Hay/RSPB

A Hen Harrier in northern Scotland is one of three across the UK to be monitored through a crowdfunding appeal.

Two wildlife conservation charities have teamed up to learn more about rare birds of prey, which were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century.

Hen Harrier Action launched the appeal to raise funds to purchase nesting cameras and satellite tags which were placed on the three birds. The marking was carried out by the RSPB alongside approved markers.

One of the Hen Harriers named Iris, after the Greek goddess of the sky, is a female based in northern Scotland, while a male bird named Charlie has been tagged in the new nature reserve in the Tarras valley to the borders. Another female, Macha, named after the Celtic goddess of war, was tagged in northern England.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, President of Hen Harrier Action, said: “I am extremely grateful to all members of the public who donated to our crowdfunder and enabled us to purchase these tags, and to the workers of the raptors and to the taggers who watched the birds and adjusted the tags.

“I’m so excited to see where our birds are going as they make their way through the world and fly away from their nesting sites.”

Known for their acrobatic courtship displays where male birds perform a series of twists and dives, hen harriers are often nicknamed skydancers. They are mainly found in heathland covered with heather where they build their nests on the ground and feed on small birds and mammals such as voles.

Hen harriers are among the UK’s most persecuted birds of prey. They were hunted almost to extinction in the late 19th century before their population recovered in the years following World War II due to reduced shooting and the introduction of legal protections.

However, the charity says they are now at serious risk from unlawful killings and their numbers have fallen in recent decades.

The next UK-wide Hen Harrier population survey is expected to take place in 2023, which will shed more light on the current status of the species.

Ian Thomson, Head of Surveys for RSPB Scotland, said: “Satellite tags are ideal for telling us where the birds are spending their time and what they are doing.

“With illegal killing being the main reason for the substantial decline of Hen Harriers in Scotland and the rest of the UK, these tags can also help us identify where this is happening. This illegal persecution cannot continue, in particularly in the current nature and climate emergency, and licensing grouse moorland will be an important step to help end this for good.

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