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On the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England – Hen Harrier

The future for England's most threatened bird of preythe Hen Harrieris looking perilous, as the species teeters on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird. Early reports indicate that only one pair is showing signs of nesting in England. If this situation continues it will be the worst year for Hen Harriers since they recolonised England, following extinction in the late 19th century. Worryingly, there are currently no birds attempting to nest in the Bowland Fells, Lancashirethe bird's only stronghold in England in recent decades.

Hen Harrier

The Hen Harrier - Circus cyaneus - is a bird of prey that breeds throughout the northern  hemisphere. It migrates to more southerly areas in winter.


The male is mainly grey above and white below except for the upper breast, which is grey like the upperparts, and the white rump. The wings are grey with black wingtips. The female is brown above with white upper tail coverts.  Juveniles are similar to females with underparts buff streaked with brown.


The male calls chek-chek-chek, or chuk-uk-uk-uk during his display flight. The female gives a whistled piih-eh when receiving food from the male and her alarm call is chit-it-it-it-it-et-it.


Hen Harriers hunt small mammals and birds.


They breed on moorland, bogs and farmland. The nest is placed on the ground. Four to six whitish eggs are laid.

Conservation Status –Least concern

This species has a large range, with an estimated global extent 1–20 million km², and a population estimated at 1.3 million individuals. There is evidence of a population decline, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the ICUN Red List.

In the UK, the Hen Harrier suffers illegal persecution by gamekeepers and their employers on shooting estates, particularly those managed for Red Grouse shooting, resulting in local and regional extinction in many areas, particularly in England where only 4 breeding pairs survive despite abundant suitable habitat capable of holding several hundred pairs. Because of this they are now very rare in many parts of the UK, and under threat in many more areas.

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