The hen harrier
In the spring, hen harriers head back to their heather moorland summer home. The grey males set out their territory, and then, they dance, hoping to impress the browner females. The males' display is a rollercoaster; climbing high into the air, before twisting and falling down, then acrobatically swooping skywards and back to start all over again. When not courting, the hen harriers hunt, quartering low over the moorland in search of meadow pipits, skylarks, voles and the occasional grouse chick. Unfortunately, this is where their problems start...
The sky dance of the male hen harrier is a heart-lifting sight to behold
Find hen harriers
The illegal persecution of the hen harrier, especially on moors managed for grouse shooting has driven it to the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England, where there remain only a handful of birds in northern moorlands. There is a real possibility that within the next few years, the ‘grey ghost’ will no longer be haunting our uplands. Hen harriers can still be found on the moors of Scotland and Wales, especially away from areas managed for grouse shooting, and the strongest populations are on the Isle of Man and on Orkney.
How to do it
Head to the moors with a pair of walking boots, binoculars and a flask, and keep your eyes on the skies. They can also be seen out of the breeding season at winter roosts in places such as the New Forest, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, where they will often roost overnight in small groups under cover in reedbeds (see our winter raptor page).
If you can't get to these places
Sadly, if the current level of persecution continues, the only place to see displaying hen harriers in England will soon be online. One place to look is the BBC website, which has several great films of hen harrier behaviour. For more on the mystery of the missing hen harriers, read Patrick Barkham’s thoughtful and balanced piece.
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