Saturday, 18 January 2014

157. Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

The story for Hen Harriers in the UK is alas very different to the recovery shown by their Marshy relatives. Last year not one pair of Hen Harriers nested successfully in England, and the long-term decline that has led to this is thought to have come about due to intense persecution by gamekeeping and shooting interests. Hen Harriers prey on Red Grouse among other birds, and some shooting estates see them as a threat to their stock, which are managed to artificially high levels so that toffs can come and shoot them in the name of 'sport'. It's not hard to guess which side of the debate I'm on.

The photo is a male Hen Harrier, a very handsome chap. He is pretty distinctive but does look similar to some of his relatives (more on that in the next couple of posts). The female is brown with darker streaking and barring; both sexes have white uppertail-coverts but these are more obvious in the female, contrasting as they do with her darker plumage. Juveniles look similar to females, but with less streaking below and slightly more rufous-tinged underparts. Their preferred habitat is open country, such as moors, heaths, grassland, marshes and bogs. They are very widely distributed in Europe, and in fact the whole Northern Hemisphere, being resident in parts of western Europe and migratory in other areas, breeding in parts of Scandinavia and wintering in southern and eastern Europe.

Hen Harrier, ©Radovan Václav, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Hen Harrier painting.
While I was doing this I felt like I was really struggling to nail the colours, but on reflection they don't seem too far off actually.

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