Found in: Birds of Turkey
The Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) or Northern Harrier (in North America) is a bird of prey. It breeds throughout the northern parts of the northern hemisphere in Canada and the northernmost USA, and in northern Eurasia. This species is polytypic, with two subspecies. Marsh Hawk is a disused name for the American form.del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Sargatal, J., eds. (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona ISBN 84-87334-15-6.
It migrates to more southerly areas in winter. Eurasian birds move to southern Europe and southern temperate Asia, and American breeders to the southernmost USA, Mexico and Central America. In the mildest regions such as France, Great Britain and the southern US, Hen Harriers may be present all year, but the higher ground is largely deserted in winter.
The Hen Harrier is 45-55 cm long with a 97-118 cm wingspan. It resembles other harriers in having distinct male and female plumages. The sexes also differ in weight, with males weighing an average of 350 g and females an average of 530 g.
The male of the nominate race, C. c. cyaneus , breeds in Europe and Asia, is mainly grey above and white below except for the upper breast, which is grey like the upperparts, and the rump, which is white; the wings are grey with black wingtips. The female is brown above with white upper tail coverts, hence females, and the similar juveniles, are often called "ringtails". Their underparts are buff streaked with brown.
C. c. hudsonius , the Northern Harrier, breeds in North America and is sometimes considered a distinct species C. hudsonius.Ferguson-Lees, J., & Christie, D. A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm, London ISBN 0713680261. The male's plumage is darker grey than that of C. c. cyaneus and the female is also darker and more rufous in colour.
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. The male calls chek-chek-chek, with a more bouncing chuk-uk-uk-uk during his display flight
In winter, the Hen Harrier is a bird of open country, and will then roost communally, often with Merlins. There is now an accepted record of transatlantic vagrancy by the American subspecies, with a juvenile being recorded in Scilly, Great Britain from October 1982 to June 1983.Fraser, P. A. et al (2007) Report on rare birds in Great Britain in 2006. British Birds 100 (12): 707.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global extent 110 million km, 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 IUCN Red List . It is therefore classified as "least concern".
Problems in the United Kingdom
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 20 pairs survive despite abundant suitable habitat capable of holding several hundred pairs.Etheridge, B., Summers, R. W. & Green, R. E. (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105. Because of this they are now very rare and in danger of extinction in the UK.
This problem received a high profile in October 2007 when police investigating the killing of two Hen Harriers on the Queen's estate at Sandringham in Norfolk interviewed Prince Harry and a friend during their investigation. The Times 31 October 2007: Prince Harry is questioned over shooting of two rare birds of prey at Sandringham No charges were brought as police were unable obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute.Shooting Times 6 November 2007: No charges over alleged hen harrier shooting
Since the assumed threat to Red Grouse is the main reason for the persecution of this species in the UK, a project funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the RSPB and Natural England was launched at Langholm Moor in Scotland from 2007. The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (LMDP), a 10-year investigation, costing 3 million, is intended to see whether grouse and raptors can live side-by-side harmoniously.
A similar project, the Joint Raptor Study (also referred to as the 'JRS' or 'the Langholm Study') was run on Langholm from 1992 to 1997. The study made many findings and a host of peer reviewed papers were published on the work, in addition to the final report. Among the most often quoted findings were that long term declines in red grouse populations were "extremely unlikely" to be due to raptor predation and were attributed to habitat degradation/loss, and that raptor predation was the most likely explanation for the failure of grouse stocks to recover at Langholm once the population had fallen to a low level.Redpath and Thirgood (1997)Birds of Prey and Red Grouse. London, Stationery Office.. The project ended in 1997, although a follow up supplementary feeding trial was run by the same team in 1998 and 1999. Grouse shooting on the moor was abandoned for the 1998 season onwards. Shooting Times 20 September 2007 New Langholm project to balance shooting with raptors