High hopes for fearless hen harrier

Wednesday 17 February 2021

The Snowdonia-born bird, named Bomber, has defied expectations by flying almost 1000 miles from Wales to Spain - twice.

Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

  • Scientists at the RSPB made the discovery thanks to cutting edge satellite-tagging technology
  • It is hoped that Bomber will return to Wales to nest in the coming months

A hen harrier named Bomber has defied expectations by completing a journey of almost 1000 miles from north Wales to northern Spain, where she has spent the last two winters.

The young female, who hatched in the Migneint, Snowdonia in 2019, was fitted with a satellite-tracking device while she was still in the nest. This has allowed scientists at the RSPB to follow her incredible journey, which took her across the English Channel to the Navarra region of northern Spain in 2019, where she spent her first winter.

Bomber flew home to Wales the following spring, settling in an area of the Carneddau range, around 25 miles from where she had hatched. Not all hen harriers breed in their first year, however Bomber paired up with an adult male, but sadly none of their chicks survived.

While most female hen harriers tend to remain close to home all their lives, on 3 November 2020 this globe-trotter was on the move again, and was back in her winter territory by 18 November. She had covered over 1000 miles in just over two weeks.

Hen harriers are rare, protected birds of prey which breed in upland areas of the UK. Males are grey with black wingtips and females are mottled brown and cream. During their breeding season, the males perform impressive acrobatic manoeuvres, which are courtship displays known as ‘skydancing’.

Their population has declined in recent decades largely due to human persecution. A survey is 2016 showed that 35 territorial pairs were found in Wales, which is a 39% decrease since 2010.

Niall Owen, Assistant Investigations Officer at the RSPB, said:

“Initially we believed that most of our tagged hen harriers stayed in the uplands of the UK all year-round. However, it’s become clear that around 10% of birds cross the English Channel for the winter, often bound for France or Spain. None of our tagged RSPB birds that travelled to Spain have made it back to the UK until recently.

“Bomber’s story is even more remarkable, because most female hen harriers tend not to wander far from where they hatched. It’s incredible how these birds find their way back to the exact same spot, almost 1000 miles away, with such precision. Exactly how they do it remains a mystery.”

The RSPB is hopeful that Bomber will return to Wales in the coming months and nest once more and send a new intrepid generation out into the world.


Last Updated: Wednesday 17 February 2021

Tagged with: Country: Wales Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Migration Topic: Wales Topic: Birds of prey Topic: Science Topic: Wales