Record number of hen harrier chicks fitted with satellite tags

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 August 2018 in News

More than 30 hen harriers have been tagged as part of the EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE project over the last four years

Hen harrier - image credit: Rob Zweers

A record number of hen harrier chicks have been fitted with satellite tags as part of efforts to protect one of the UK’s rarest birds.

More than 30 hen harriers have been tagged as part of the EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE project over the last four years, with the majority living in Scotland.

The satellite tags will allow conservationists to follow the raptors’ movements as they leave their nests, gaining invaluable information on where they spend their time.

Hen harrier chicks have survival rates of around 22 per cent in their first two years of life, with the tags providing more detailed information about causes of death.

A 2016 study found the UK population declined by 24 per cent since 2004.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, project manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project said: “Satellite tagging technology has taught us so much about the movements of hen harriers.

“We can follow individual stories; from the birds that make huge journeys crossing over seas to those that stay closer to home and only move short distances from where they were hatched. We’ve discovered new nesting places and winter roosting sites, which help us protect the birds when they are at their most vulnerable.”

She added: “This species is only just holding on in the UK; it’s both heart-breaking and infuriating that year after year many of these chicks disappear in suspicious circumstances. The loss of birds in this way is both needless and senseless and cannot go on. We hope that the recommendations of the enquiry panel here in Scotland will give hen harriers, and other birds of prey, a fair and fighting chance at survival and help stamp out these outdated illegal persecution practices.”

The RSPB said that, of the birds tagged in 2017, almost 40 per cent are known to have died from natural causes, in line with low survival rates, but over a quarter disappeared in “suspicious circumstances”. 

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