Hen harrier

Female hen harrier

Hen harrier (female) ©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Male hen harrier

Hen harrier (male) ©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Hen harrier

Scientific name: Circus cyaneus
The hen harrier has been severely persecuted for taking game species and has suffered massive declines in numbers as a result. Thankfully, conservation projects are underway to reduce conflict surrounding its controversial prey.

Species information


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

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

January to December


The hen harrier nests on the ground among the heather of upland moorlands. It winters in the lowlands, particularly around the coast, on heathland and on farmland. It is one of the most endangered breeding birds of prey in the country; it sometimes feeds on small grouse and fowl (hence its name), bringing it into conflict with gamekeepers and farmers.

How to identify

The hen harrier is a slim bird. Males are blue-grey with a white rump, pale underside and black wing tips. Females are brown above and streaky below, with a white rump and a banded tail.


Found 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 numbers throughout the UK.

Did you know?

Female hen harriers are known as 'ringtails' due to their distinctive tail banding. Both females and males attend the young; the males provide food, which is often passed, mid-air to the female in a spectacular display of 'throw and catch'.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. By working together, we can create Living Landscapes: networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature. Support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.