Hen Harriers habits being tracked by satellite tags

Hen Harriers came close to extinction in the 90s. Picture: JP

Hen Harriers came close to extinction in the 90s. Picture: JP

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Rare birds of prey are being tracked with satellite tags as part of a project looking at the threats they face.

The tags will transmit the locations of hen harriers, a species which was pushed to the brink of extinction by the early 1900s.

We can track them accurately to see where they go and find out which areas they’re getting into trouble.

Bea Ayling

Since then, numbers have slowly increased but there are still only around 505 breeding pairs in Scotland.

Two female harriers, Holly and Chance, had their satellite tags fitted by the Scottish Raptor Study Group.

The tags transmit their locations on a regular basis, with the public able to follow their movements on a new website. For security reasons the information available will be displayed with a two-week delay.

Bea Ayling, manager of the project, said: “Hen harriers suffered 20% declines across Scotland between 2004 and 2010 and urgent action is needed to help conserve this species.

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“Illegal killing by humans remains the main problem for these birds despite them having full legal protection for many years. This is because their usual diet of small birds and voles may also include red grouse, thus bringing them into conflict with gamekeepers.

“Several hen harriers have disappeared in recent months in northern England and one bird, named Annie, was found shot dead on moorland in south-west Scotland earlier this year.

“By fitting satellite tags to harriers we can track them accurately to see where they go and find out which areas they’re getting into trouble. We can also gain valuable information on breeding sites, nest locations and, should the worst happen, be able to locate and recover the bodies of dead harriers far more easily.

“The timely recovery of dead birds may also assist the police and prosecutors in bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.”

Scotland has the bulk of the UK breeding population of hen harriers with most found in Orkney, the Hebrides and parts of the western mainland.

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