Amazing mum Wendy is one of the RSPB’s oldest tagged hen harriers and has raised two broods already in the past two years. Will she have a third in 2021?
Wendy in flight. Photo by Will Hayward
As the hen harrier breeding season approaches, RSPB scientists are watching the skies for the return of one of their oldest satellite-tagged hen harriers, who has nested on the West Coast of Scotland every year since she hatched.
Wendy was tagged in 2016 at HM Naval Base Clyde’s Coulport Site as part of the RSPB’s EU LIFE+ project. She was one of two chicks in the nest. Her brother Donald, who was also tagged, risked a long flight to France but sadly did not survive the journey. Wendy however stayed much closer to home and has continued to do so throughout her life, successfully raising two broods herself since then.
Hen harriers are red-listed and in recent decades their population has declined in the UK, largely due to human persecution. Scotland is a traditional stronghold for these elegant and agile hunters - known for their beautiful ‘skydancing’ courtship display - yet even here their numbers are falling and illegal killing sadly continues.
Over 100 hen harriers were tagged as part of the five-year LIFE project, but most female birds have died or vanished - often on or near driven grouse moors - before reaching breeding age.
Satellite tag data shows that Wendy favours spending her winters on Mull, then heading back to the mainland each summer to nest. The first nest site she chose, near Loch Fyne, was unsuccessful. The following year she nested in Perthshire but was unlucky again. Tail feathers were found on her nest, and it was initially feared that a fox had taken both Wendy and her eggs. However it turned out Wendy had managed to escape the attack, and she was recorded soon after on the Argyll coast.
However in 2019 Wendy nested in Argyll and this time she raised three chicks, before heading back to her winter home on Mull. Wendy returned to nest in Argyll again last year and raised another brood: this time three females and two males.
One of these was Bathsheba, who was tagged just like her mother, and is also being tracked by the RSPB. Bathsheba spent her first year after leaving the nest exploring south, around Dumfries and Galloway, then north into the Highlands. She has also opted to spend her winters on Mull. It's rare to have a tagged mother and daughter both still alive, and it's hoped Bathsheba will become a mum herself for the first time this summer.
Three of Wendy's brood in 2019 (Bathsheba in the middle)
Wendy's 2020 brood enjoying a breakfast of meadow pipits! Photo by David Jardine
In the last two weeks, we have herd that Wendy has left Mull and looks to be heading back to her nest site, where the tagging team are hopeful she will nest for a third time this spring.
Jenni Burrell, Investigations Intelligence Officer at the RSPB, has been monitoring Wendy closely these past five years. Says Jenni:
“Wendy is one of our oldest tagged hen harriers. She hatched in 2016 and is a Scottish bird through and through, having stayed true to the West Highlands all her life. She has raised two broods and we’re hopeful she’ll be back at the same site once again to raise another family this spring.
“It’s been fascinating to watch her movements and see her raise young of her own. She has survived the gauntlet of predation and illegal persecution so far, and we’ve got everything crossed that she’ll have another successful summer in 2021.”
MOD Police Inspector John Simpson added:
“The MOD Police Wildlife Crime Officers were delighted to be part of this initiative and I am pleased to see Wendy is doing so well. The Defence landholding on the Clyde is a haven for this protected species and we will continue to ensure they thrive.”
Have you seen a hen harrier?
If you see a hen harrier, we’d love to know! Males are silver with black wingtips and a white rump; females are mottled brown and cream with a long, barred tail. Please email the hen harrier hotline at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If possible, include time, date, location and photo or description. Thank you.
Wendy's mate. Photo by David Jardine
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