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RSPB launches hen harrier hotline

Last modified: 11 May 2012

Female hen harrier in flight

In 2011 there were only 4 successful hen harrier nests, all located within the lancashire area.

A special hotline has opened to encourage people who live or spend time in the English uplands to report sightings of England’s rarest breeding bird of prey, the hen harrier.

Refreshed and updated for its fifth consecutive year in operation, the Hen Harrier Hotline is being re-launched by the RSPB in the hope of discovering more about where these birds are potentially breeding in northern England.   

The hen harrier is one of our most awe-inspiring birds of prey with the male harrier performing a magnificent aerobatic courtship display in spring known as skydancing, and providing food to the female in spectacular mid-air food passes.

Sadly, the species is also affected by illegal persecution, a fact reinforced by the government-commissioned review – the hen harrier framework - which concluded that illegal killing and disturbance is the biggest single factor limiting the population of this species in Northern England.

It is estimated that the heather moors of England have the potential to hold at least 320 pairs of nesting hen harriers, but in 2011 there were only four successful nests, all of which were confined to one area of Lancashire.

Harriers are smaller than a buzzard and larger than a crow, with a 100 -120 cm wingspan.  These long wings are complemented by long tails and an obvious white rump.  They are usually seen flying low over the ground with wings slightly raised in a characteristic V-shape.  Male and female hen harriers have strikingly different plumage, so much so that they were once thought to be separate species.  The male is a ghostly pale blue-grey, with black wingtips, while the larger female is dark brown with a series of horizontal stripes on her tail, earning her the nickname “ringtail”.

Amanda Miller, the RSPB’s Conservation Manager for Northern England said: “Hen harriers in England are very rare so we are interested in hearing about any sightings of these amazing birds. By receiving information about possible nests, we can help give hen harriers the best possible chance of breeding successfully.”

The Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate).  Reports can also be e-mailed to  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

The Hen Harrier Hotline is part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project aimed at protecting and conserving nesting hen harriers in the English uplands. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, United Utilities and SITA Trust, with additional support from the Forestry Commission.

For more information about Skydancer visit

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