Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers


Get the latest news on our hen harrier conservation work, including the five-year Hen Harrier Life+ project.

Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers

Follow the efforts of RSPB staff during the breeding season, as they attempt to monitor and protect one of England's rarest breeding birds of prey - the hen harrier.
  • Touring Skydancer Road Show

    *Phew*! Between April and July is definitely the busy season for people engagement and I feel like I've hardly been in the office at all - no bad thing given the recent bout of sunshine! With the help of some fantastic volunteers, I've been out and about visiting schools, running moorland field trips and attending events and shows, spreading the word about hen harriers far and wide!

    So far this year, we've run assemblies, workshops and/or field trips with over 430 children in 8 schools and youth groups, debated the future of hen harriers in England with gamekeeping and countryside management students at Askham Bryan College and Myerscough College, taken the Skydancer Road Show to 5 big community events and county shows, and delivered 10 community talks to local interest groups... and there's plenty more to come!

    Look out for us at the West Cumbria Game Fair on the 13th & 14th July and watch this space for updates on something very exciting happening at the end of the month in Northumberland that you could get involved in...! In the meantime, a few pictorial highlights from the last month or so:

    Our Skydancer stall at Newcastle Green Festival...

    ...taking my hen harrier puppet for a skydance through the festival crowds... he certainly attracted attention!

    Making a whole flock of flapping hen harriers at Brennand's Endowed Primary School, Slaidburn, Forest of Bowland...

    Teaming up with RSPB Geltsdale at the Cumberland Show...

    Beautiful day out on the moors in Bowland with hen harrier fun and games...

     We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

  • Hen harriers in the media

    Running with the theme of positivity for 2013, if one were to try and find some sliver of good in the tragedy of Bowland Betty, it's that the circumstances of her untimely demise have finally brought the hen harrier issue to national attention. In the last week alone, there has been a strong article in The Observer and a BBC Radio4 piece featuring Martin Harper and Adrian Blackmore from the Countryside Alliance on Monday's Today programme. There are also feature articles on hen harriers in the January editions of both Lancashire Life magazine (they even made the cover) and the Shooting Gazette. Regional and local news stories about hen harriers are one thing but to get national media coverage like this is rare enough.

    We now have an opportunity here, you and I, to focus this attention and not let it slip away. We need to build on it and in doing so, connect the wider public with these beautiful birds and the moorland landscape in which they live. Tell the hen harrier story to your neighbour over the garden fence, or your friend next time you go for coffee. Point people to this blog, tell your friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter. Write to your local paper and let them know that this is important to you, to us all.

    Remember buzzardgate? Public outrage can be a powerful thing, and we should be outraged. That people (however many or few) are intentionally and illegally killing hen harriers or discouraging them from nesting is outrageous. However in the midst of this I ask you to please remember that not all people who shoot hate hen harriers, and not all people who want to see hen harriers protected are against grouse shooting. The two interests are not mutually exclusive. We don't need scaremongering or demonizing - these things are not helpful and indeed, they only set people against eachother and deepen the problem. This is an opportunity to get away from all that and to help people to really understand the issues. We all want a world richer in wildlife.

    We need to encourage everyone, whatever their background, to speak out in the name of hen harriers and send a clear message that these are our birds. They belong in our shared landscape. And illegal persecution will not be tolerated.

    This is our chance, and your voice matters.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!

  • Northumberland: Speculation Mounts

    As you can imagine, it has been a pretty anxious time for us in North Tynedale. There is always the concern that something might happen to our birds as there has been human persecution on the site in recent years. Could something sinister have happened to our girl?
    After Easter weekend, the weather turned, as reported in my last blog. Through the swirling mist, we got a few ghostly glimpses of a ringtail – probably a female – quietly hunting over the whole estate. If it was our bird, she wasn’t behaving like a female harrier with eggs.
    And the male? He hadn’t been seen since Easter Monday, but as soon as the first sun rays in a week hit the hills on Friday evening (17 April), he was back and skydancing.
    “Fickle” has been used a lot over the last week to describe hen harriers. Perhaps that’s not fair. We may not always be able to make sense of their behaviour, but there will be logic to it that we cannot appreciate or know. And, I suppose, that’s what makes observing these birds so enthralling – the unexpected skydancing, the quick delivery of food (blink and you'll miss it), and yes, even when they go AWOL.
    A Secret Nest?
    Over last weekend (17 April) the good weather continued so we monitored the hills from dawn to dusk. By keeping close watch over the whole of the site, we would be able to confirm whether there was a secret nest. When the female hen harrier is incubating eggs, her mate will only visit a few times during the day with food. We could easily miss these food passes – it is, after all, quite a large area with many hillocks obscuring the line of sight and plenty of healthy, thick heather suitable for nesting in.
    Our male bird impressed us with his skydancing on Saturday and Sunday but he did not lead us to the female. She did, however, make a brief appearance which was reassuring. By Sunday afternoon we could fairly confidently say that it is unlikely there is a nest. For now.
    We cannot explain the change in behaviour of our harriers but we have no reason to think they weren't responding to some natural force. Perhaps after the hardest winter in 18 years, the male bird could not find enough food during the critical stage around egg-laying (the female needs to be pumped with protein during this time). Or, could a fox have destroyed their nest? Who knows.
    But, it is still early days and we are hopeful that the fortunes of the Northumberland hen harriers could change - again.