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'THE SKYDANCER'

HEN HARRIERS IN IRELAND

Video Clips

Check out BirdWatch Ireland's latest video clip featuring the Hen Harrier, one of Ireland's most spectacular birds. It is also one of the rarest, which, combined with its preference for remote upland areas, means that few of us have ever had the privilege of witnessing the "skydancer" for ourselves. Here is your chance to watch these beautiful birds and their amazing courtship displays, to learn about why there are such an important part of our uplands and to understand the challenges they face in an ever-changing landscape.

   

Thanks to Darío Fernández-Bellon who filmed and edited the above video and to the RSPB for providing additional footage.


To learn more about the key issues concerning the future conservation of Hen Harriers in Ireland, please watch the clip from RTE's Ear to the Ground farming programme featuring John Lusby (Raptor Conservation Officer) of BirdWatch Ireland.

To read more about the bird behind the headlines, click here

News

The 2015 Hen Harrier Survey and reaction from stakeholders to the latest survey results.

Hen Harrier shot dead in County Kerry

Wing-tagged Hen Harriers


Podcast

Listen here to Pat Kenny (Newstalk FM) talk to John Lusby (Raptor Conservation Officer at BirdWatch Ireland) to find out why Hen Harriers keep making the headlines.

 

Click on link here to hear John Lusby talk to Derek Mooney (RTE) about whether Hen Harriers and farmers can live side by side.

 

Skydancer

Renowned for their spectacular aerial acrobatics, the 'Sky Dance' is an impressive courtship display in which the male Hen Harrier shows off extraordinary agility to a potential female partner. It is one of the most magical natural spectacles in the Irish countryside where the male rises to dizzying heights before suddenly plummeting towards the ground in a series of impressive twists, tumbles and turns while calling to the female, before pulling up just before impact with the ground. The food pass (see image below) is a mid-air transfer of food from the male to female which also shows the graceful maneuverability of these birds.

 

 

Hen Harrier Factfile

Please download your copy here or head to our dedicated Ireland's Birds page 

Did you know?

  • Males (see bottom image below) are so strikingly different to females that for many centuries it was thought they were a separate species
  •  They can appear owl-like due to their dish-shaped faces, an adaptation that helps them pinpoint prey by sound
  • Their diet is mostly small birds like Meadow Pipits and Skylarks and small mammals such as Bank Voles and mice
  • Despite their size, they are relatively light birds, perfectly adapted to their hunting style and acrobatic displays

 

 

Wing and a Prayer Raptor Appeal - Donate now.

 

 


Key Contact & Other Useful Links


John Lusby, Raptor Conservation Officer, BirdWatch Ireland. 

RSPB Skydancer project 

 

 

Hen Harrier Conservation

 

Male Hen Harrier                                                                                                   Image by Mark Carmody                          

As one of our most enigmatic and rarest birds of prey, Ireland is home to the most westerly population of Hen Harriers in the world. The most recent survey in 2015 estimated the population to be 108-157 breeding pairs which represents a 8.7% decline since the 2010 survey.  Changes within the protected areas designated for Hen Harrier (six SPAs in total) are even more pronounced with a decline of almost 27% in 10 years (2005-2015).  

Cause of the declines

Loss of suitable habitat & changes in land use

Changes in the fabric of our upland landscape over the past 50 years or so has had an enormous negative impact on upland breeding birds, including the Hen Harrier.  Protected under EU (Birds Directive) and national (Wildlife Act 2000) legislation, the species has lost much of its former range through agricultural intensification, including afforestation.  Over 50% of the Hen Harrier SPA netowrk in Ireland consists of commercial forest compared to just 11% nationally. Among the biggest threats to Hen Harriers today, is forest maturation and further afforestation of their preferred heather moorland and bog habitats.

Other associated factors

In addition to the loss of nesting and foraging habitat through afforestation, other issues of conservation concern facing the Hen Harrier include agricultural intensification, degradation of upland habitats, increased predation, disturbance and habitat loss from illegal burning, developments in upland areas and illegal persecution, and there are also concerns over juvenile survival and recruitment into the breeding population.

Life history of Hen Harriers

There are increased concerns regarding the ability of juveniles to survive post dispersal from natal breeding grounds and their subsequent recruitment into the adult breeding population. 

Delivering a better future for Hen Harriers

BirdWatch Ireland is working to influence the best outcome for Hen Harrier conservation through a number of measures, including inputting to the Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan which is being prepared by the National Parks & Wildlife Service. The purpose of the plan is to identify the main threats to Hen Harriers and identify the best solutions for a sustainable future, and it has the potential to deliver an effective framework for Hen Harrier conservation.

Protected Areas for Hen Harriers

A total of six Hen Harrier SPAs were designated in 2007 (see map below), which combined make up 2.3% of the country's surface area.

Hen Harriers are also found at other sites within the protected areas network for Birds and Habitats in Ireland. Please click on the NPWS Hen Harrier SPA Habitat viewer for more detail.

Based on the 2015 national survey, 101 breeding pairs are found within this network (SACs, SPAs, NHAs).

Abbreviations used: Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA), Natural Heritage Area (NHA).

 

 

Juvenile Hen Harrier           Image by Mark Carmody

 

Sub-adult Male              Image by Mark Carmody

  

Where they live

Breeding birds are restricted to upland hilly areas where there is enough nesting and foraging habitat to support territorial pairs. In winter, birds move to more low-lying and coastal areas.

Traditionally, breeding birds nested on the ground in heather-dominated moorland, but due to fundamental changes to our upland landscape, including widespread planting of non-native coniferous forests. Hen Harriers have largely switched to ground nesting in pre-thicket forest plantation and early growth second rotation forest; they will also nest in dense vegetation including scrub.

 

The maps above are reproduced from the Bird Atlas 2007-11 (Balmer et al. 2013) and represent the 10km distribution of Hen Harriers in summer (left hand image) and winter (right hand image).

 

 

 Female Hen Harrier                                                                                Image by Mark Carmody

 

 

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