ONE of Scotland’s most iconic birds of prey needs the help of the public to conserve the species for future generations.
The hen harrier is struggling to breed in the wild and an initiative to be launched today is urging bird watchers, hill walkers and the general public to look out for and report sightings of the bird.
There were about 500 pairs of hen harriers in 2010, but in many areas their numbers are failing to thrive and elsewhere in the UK they are faring even worse. The hen harrier is thought to be one of Scotland’s most charismatic birds.
The male is grey above, white below, and with black wing tips performs a looping skydancing display to entice a female to mate with him. The female is much larger, and brown, with white streaks below. The majority of the hen harrier population across the UK is found in Scotland, mainly across moorland.
The fall in population is due to land use changes resulting in losses of moorland nesting habitat and feeding range, predation of eggs and young by foxes, crows and other predators, and illegal persecution.
The Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland) has started the initiative in hopes that information from the public will help them build up valuable information on these birds, recording what happens to them.
People are being asked to record details of gender, behaviour and place, date and time of sighting.
Paul Wheelhouse, Environment Minister and chairman of PAW Scotland, said: “The hen harrier is one of Scotland’s most fascinating birds of prey – with the male’s skydancing display one of nature’s great sights.
“In the Year of Natural Scotland people deserve to see the best of our wildlife whether they are on holiday, or simply going about their day-to-day activities.
“Unfortunately these birds are not thriving in some parts of Scotland where we know they would find a suitable habitat and we are determined to take action to conserve them.
“This initiative will raise the profile of the hen harrier to provide us with important information about their activity and location, and I hope people across Scotland will join the efforts to conserve this alluring bird for future generations.”
Ron Macdonald, head of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, which will record the information, added: “The public can be of great help by reporting sightings and helping us build a picture of the reasons why these birds aren’t doing as well as we would expect.
“Using sightings from the public, we can assess whether to use some of the new technology at our disposal such as satellite-tagging or camera monitoring, or even where necessary share information with the National Wildlife Crime Unit.
“We do want people to bear in mind though that these birds are specially protected under the law and nobody should approach hen harrier nests or disturb the birds without a licence from SNH.”
Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “The hen harrier is one of Scotland’s most iconic and beautiful birds of prey. However, in the UK its population has suffered greatly from illegal killing by humans.”