RSPB
Skip navigation
Become a member

Help us give nature a home from £3 a month.

Conservation status: Red

Of the UK's birds of prey, this is the most intensively persecuted. Once predating free-range fowl, earning its present name, its effect on the number of grouse available to shoot is the cause of modern conflict and threatens its survival in some parts of the UK, particularly on the driven grouse moors of England and Scotland.

While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food, which mainly consists of meadow pipits and voles. The Orkney population is famous for being polygynous, with males sometimes simultaneously mated to multiple females.

Illustrations

Overview

Latin name

Circus cyaneus

Family

Hawks and eagles (Accipitridae)

Where to see them

The hen harrier lives in open areas with low vegetation. In the breeding season UK birds are to be found on the upland heather moorlands of Wales, Northern England, N Ireland and Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man). In winter they move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys. Those found in eastern and south-east England are probably mostly visitors from mainland Europe.

When to see them

They arrive back on upland breeding areas from late March and stay there until August and September. Away from breeding areas birds can be seen from October to March and Continental birds will join residents in October and November.

What they eat

Mainly small birds and mammals.

Population

EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-617 pairs (and 29 on the Isle of Man) in 2010--

Distribution

Key

Audio

Paul Driver, Xeno-canto

At home with a hen harrier family

Watch footage from a hen harrier nest in Bowland during 2011.

How we're helping hen harriers

Hen harrier LIFE project

Running until 2019, the LIFE project combines satellite tagging, on-the-ground monitoring, nest protection, investigations work, awareness-raising, and working with landowners and local communities to protect hen harriers across northern England, southern and eastern Scotland. More...

Hen harrier LIFE project

Skydancer

Skydancer is an exciting four-year project aimed at raising awareness and promoting the conservation of hen harriers in the north of England. More...

Skydancer

How you can help

There is enough habitat for 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England, but only three pairs bred in 2014. With you on our side, we can save the hen harrier.

Donate today

Join the RSPB and support our work. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again.

Join today