We’re delighted to say that one of our tagged hen harriers has turned the distinguished age of five - making her the Hen Harrier LIFE project’s oldest bird.

She was fitted with a satellite transmitter as a chick in June 2015, in Perthshire, Scotland, and is the only surviving bird from that year. By tracking her movements, we have been able to collect valuable data about the species, and it’s been a joy and a privilege to watch her story unfold.

This grand dame is a home bird through and through and has remained in Scotland all her life. In her first year she established a pattern she has stuck to for the rest of her life – dispersing approximately 50km away to spend the autumn and winter in Angus then returning to breed in the spring close to where she hatched. Her movements fit in with previous studies which show that more female Scottish-born hen harriers remain in Scotland for the winter than males, and more females choose to spend this time on moorland rather than lower ground near the coast.

In following her for five years, scientists have been able to gather a wealth of data, adding to the picture of the lives led by hen harriers after they fledge. Her winter travels have also led us to discover new harrier roost sites. Some of these sites have been used by other satellite-tagged harriers in the area.

Her story shows how long hen harriers could live if left untroubled by persecution. Sadly, a large number of hen harriers tagged during the Hen Harrier LIFE project have vanished or been killed before seeing out their first year.

There are just over 500 hen harrier pairs in the UK. However estimates based on habitat and food availability suggest there is the potential for a population of over 2,500 pairs. They are subject to heavy persecution, particularly where land is managed for driven grouse shooting.

Satellite tagging has revolutionised the way we study these vulnerable birds, giving us unparalleled insights into their lives and the threats they face.

It shouldn’t be an event for a hen harrier to reach five years old – the longevity record for a hen harrier in the UK, from ringing records, is 15 years 9 months – and we hope this wonderful bird continues to thrive for many more years to come.

Huge thanks go out to the Scottish Raptor Study Group for their monitoring work.

Anonymous