Hen Harrier Hotline is relaunched by the RSPB as numbers fall

A female hen harrier. Picture by Tim Melling
A female hen harrier. Picture by Tim Melling

The RSPB is calling on wildlife fans who enjoy exploring the remote moorlands of the North East to look out for hen harriers, one of England’s rarest birds of prey.

The nature conservation charity has relaunched the Hen Harrier Hotline in the hope of discovering where these birds might be nesting.

At this time of year, the male hen harrier performs his courtship display known as skydancing, involving a spectacular series of swoops and somersaults. If he attracts a female, he then proves his worth as a mate by passing her food offerings in mid-air.

Experts estimate there is sufficient habitat in England to provide a home to around 300 pairs of breeding hen harriers. But last year there were only three successful nests in the whole country, all of which were in Northumberland.

Male hen harriers are an ash-grey colour with black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre. They are known as ghostbirds because of their pale plumage.

Female hen harriers are slightly larger, are owl-like in appearance and have a mottled brown plumage, which camouflages them when they nest on the ground. They have horizontal stripes on their tails, giving them the nickname ringtail and a patch of white just above, on the rump.

The Hen Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121, or email reports to henharriers@rspb.org.uk