Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

The Hen Harrier Diaries

This is the final instalment of The Hen Harrier Diaries 2015. This years breeding season has been an outstanding success for our established pairs, they were all successful in rearing chicks. One of the territories (Pair 2) did not see any breeding attempt this year.

Pair 1; Heather's Mom and Dad. Great respect is due to this pair against all the odds they reared one beautiful chick, no meagre achievement in a predator infested area.The young fledgling has now set off to explore the world for itself , hopefully the chick will one day return and have a successful breeding attempt too.

Pair 3; The pairs hard work was really rewarding, rearing three gorgeous chicks, The three young chicks were an absolute joy to watch, especially when they fledged, they basically assaulted mom and dad every time they returned with food for their overeager chicks. They gave us some of the most memorable moments of the summer. Now they have gone their separate ways to explore the world, lets hope they stay safe.


Pair 4; We have had some anxious and enduring moments from this pair over the course of the summer. Their result has been a positive one rearing one stunning chick. The chick stuck around until a few weeks ago until it's curiosity to see the world got the better of it. Hopefully mom and dad can produce the same again next year.

Pair 5; The Professionals have yet again been phenomenal this year, the conclusion was even better than initially believed, they actually reared three chicks. They gave us a wealth of wonderful memories over the summer. Hopefully their young juveniles can find their away in the world and no doubt we will see mom and dad again next year.

Pair 6; New Kids on the BlockPenny is a special bird, like all Hen Harriers. From her first attempt at sky dancing to her first food pass, her bravery to challenge four lesser black back Gulls and evict them from her territory she had us intrigued. What a success story Penny has been, at such a young age to rear three gorgeous chicks credit to her and her Male companion, hopefully they will return again next year and be as successful as this year, and her young fledglings are thriving in their new world.

Now it is onto the first winter of the young birds born on the mountains this year. They will travel near and far, making their own way in the world. The first winter is a real bottlebneck for the Irish Hen Harrier population, with just one out of every six chicks believed to survive through to the following spring breeding season. The Irish Hen Harrier Winter Survey follows the progress of our national Hen Harrier population during this crucial part of the year and sightings can be contributed to

We will keep you posted with some news from roosts around the country throughout the winter and should you have any news you would like reported yourself, please email Hen Harrier Ireland at

                                                                                                                           Bye for now
                                                                                                                   Thank you for tuning in
                                                                                                                       Hen Harrier Ireland 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Chance of a Lifetime

A young bird beginning to make its way in life. Every flight over the horizon provides a new, never before seen vista. A free spirit. Where to next? The world is its oyster.

Then BANG! Struck down!

Hit by a car on the side of a road outside Castleisland, Co. Kerry. Left for dead.

But where there are people with compassion in their hearts, there is hope.

The young male is picked up and looked after for a week, before being brought to Kingdom Falconry who then rehabilitated the bird further, before releasing him as a healthy individual at a bog near Knight's Mountain.

See the magnificent release here


There are many people who will do anything they can to help wildlife, particularly some of our most rare and vulnerable species such as Hen Harriers. This is a great example from two people who care about the world around them and there are many more out there who share their commitment.

While Heather had her life taken from her in a cowardly act earlier this year, this is a courageous act that has offered a young bird without a name another chance at life. 

In the very same county of Kerry. The chance of a lifetime.

Let there be hope!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


Miranda. Who is Miranda? Who was Miranda?

Miranda was a female Hen Harrier who had a magnificent journey. She was a special Hen Harrier -just like all Hen Harriers are special. She had an individual life story. She was an individual soul making her way in the world.

Miranda was born in Langholm, Scotland. She visited us here in Ireland, just as many Hen Harriers from Scotland have visited Ireland over the years. We know this because she was sat-tagged (see and we were lucky enough to be given the rare opportunity to follow the progress of a special, individual soul as she made her way in life. She travelled throughout much of Ireland, from Dublin to Mayo, from Donegal to Antrim and it was one of the most fascinating journeys that has been witnessed. All along the way, she opened up new insights to a young Hen Harrier's ecology. After some time, she was more Irish than Scottish, spending far longer in Ireland than she did in Scotland or indeed the Isle of Man where she also visited briefly. Then, radio silence.

Lissycasey 7. Who is Lissycasey 7? Who was Lissycasey 7?

This was a beautiful young Hen Harrier born near Lissycasey in West Clare in 2008. She was fitted with green and yellow colour wing tags. She was the first confirmed record of an Irish born Hen Harrier venturing all the way across the sea. She spent her entire first winter in Wales, on the beautiful Skomer Island (fox and mink free and full of fat skomer voles!). There she became a local celebrity and many of the public in Wales got to see and enjoy this stunning looking bird. After a good winter, Lissycasey E decided to return home to Ireland and could well have become part of the breeding population here. Very sadly, the elements conspired against her and she met a storm when crossing the Irish Sea. She was unable to keep up the fight travelling westerly against a raging winds, rain and high seas and the next time she was seen was on the tide line of the Welsh coast. Another light extinguished.

Ireland and Britain have for longer than anyone knows, been home to one connected population of Hen Harriers. Hen Harriers do not recognise boundaries. They are literally as free as a bird. We have a metapopulation. What happens to Greenland White-fronted Geese, Redwings and Whooper Swans in the north has direct implications for the birds we see arrive here each winter. What happens to Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Swallows in the south has direct implications for the birds we see arrive here each Summer. What happens to Hen Harriers in Britain has direct implications for Hen Harriers in Ireland - if they continue to be shot in Scotland or England, this lessens the chances of young birds coming to Ireland - perhaps even Irish birds travelling to Britain may be shot. What happens to Hen Harriers in Ireland has direct implications for Hen Harriers in Britain - if Hen Harriers reared in Scotland or England come to Ireland to make a life for themselves yet year after year their nest is predated or if they too are shot, this lessens the chances of the population stabilising in Britain or Ireland.

This may seem a bit "sciencey" but it is science and we are in the age of knowledge.

Know then that the spineless killing of Annie (see here) has more than a ripple of implications in Ireland and we stand fully in solidarity with those who love and watch and research and drive themselves into the ground in search of a future for this most superb of species. For anyone thinking that's a Scottish or English problem - it is not....

...Heather. Who is Heather? Who was Heather?

Lissycasey 7

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

Welcome to the third installment of The Hen Harrier Diaries.

Since our last update the majority of our six pairs are still going strong, Our pairs have been extremely busy providing food for their young nestlings.

Pair 1. Heather's Mom and Dad. This pair chose to nest in close proximity to a young sitka spruce plantation, it really is a precarious location with lots of predators in the vicinity. Last week one of our volunteers witnessed the Male attempt to expel two Ravens for a full hour, the Ravens  were dangerously close to his nest, in the end the persistent Male won the day. Lets hope this pair have fledged chicks for the next update.

Pair 2. The Neighbours. Unfortunately the pair decided not to nest in the area this year, we hope they are safe and have a successful breeding attempt.

Pair 3. Both Male and Female are now busy providing food for their young nestlings.The variety of prey the Female has been returning with has just been amazing, from Lizards to small Mammals, Frogs and small Birds it has been remarkable to watch.They have also had the company of a young Female over the last few days, she is also keeping a close eye on the chicks.Their nest is also in a hazardous location, hopefully they can be successful rearing their young nestlings

Pair 4. This pair are also safe and sound. The Male and Female are working vigorously providing for their young. The Male is especially diligent in his hunting, hunting from dawn till dusk, one evening returning with food so late he was guided by the light of a beautiful full moon.

Pair 5. The glen nesters. The professionals have yet again been impressive in their breeding attempt , they have two beautiful chicks, Mom and Dad are now encouraging their chicks to fly, they are no longer dropping food into the nest but are forcing the chicks to fly to receive the food, it was incredible to witness these young Birds take their first flight.While they are nearly fledged they are still not out of danger, fingers crossed they remain safe over the next couple of weeks.

Pair 6. New Kids on the block. Penny and her charming Male have been kept extremely busy over the last few weeks, they have three nearly fledged chicks,some of the chicks are now dispersed around the surrounding area of the nest, only returning when Mom or Dad return with food, Penny really is an adoring Mom tending the chicks every need, returning the other day with a big Rat to the delight of her young chicks. Hopefully all her chicks will  fledge soon and take their first flight. The world is their oyster.

                                                       Stay tuned for further updates

                                                                     Bye for now
                                                             Hen Harrier Ireland


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Hen Harrier Diaries

This is the second installment of The Hen Harrier Diaries.

Over the past few weeks our small team of volunteers have been working diligently to establish the exact location of our six breeding pairs. Have they settled down to nesting and if so, where are their nests?

Here are the latest updates on our six pairs.

Pair 1. Heather's Mom and Dad. This pair have been kept busy entertaining their energetic guest, they have been accompanied by a juvenile Female for the last couple of weeks, hopefully they will settle down soon and choose a nest location.

Pair 2. The Neighbours. While we still have not confirmed this pair yet. In the last couple of weeks
we have had both a Male and Female sky dancing near last year's nest, we even had a juvenile Male showing us his dance moves.
Fingers crossed we will have an established pair for the next update

Pair 3. This pair are now well established they have chosen their preferred nesting spot of previous years. Pair 3 have got off to a difficult start, a fire destroyed most of their territory, but hopefully they recover from this set back and have a successful breeding attempt.

Pair 4. They have carefully selected a nest location very close to where they nested last year. The Male has worked relentlessly, providing his Female with food. Hopefully they will be as successful as last year.

Pair 5. The glen nesters. The assertive Female has kept her devoted Male busy tending her every need. The pair have chosen a ridge of bramble and heather as their nest location in the secluded glen they have nested in previous years.

Pair 6. New Kids on the block. As you might have seen in a previous post, we named this Female Penny. Well Penny and her Male companion have chosen a hidden glen as their nest location.The Male has been looking after his girl with great care, bringing her plenty of prey to feed on, we wish them well.

                                                                         Bye for now
                                                                     Hen Harrier Ireland

Friday, 1 May 2015


To All Primary Schools and Secondary Schools:

Hen Harrier Ireland is organising a competition entitled "Celebrating our Hen Harriers".

Hen Harriers have been found in the Irish countryside for thousands of years and they are one of the most spectacular birds in nature, with their acrobatic sky dances and awesome food passes! It is time to celebrate the Hen Harrier as a special bird, that represents a living countryside, with farming, Grouse, Curlew, Skylarks and much more.

We have lots of great prizes, including the following:

  • A pair of excellent Minox 10x25 binoculars (first prize Secondary Schools)

  • A digital camera (first prize Primary Schools)

  • The opportunity for students and an accompanying adult to watch Hen Harriers in the wild (first prize Primary and Secondary Schools)

  • Collins Bird Guides (runner up prizes Primary and Secondary Schools)

  • All entries will receive a colourful glossy A3 Hen Harrier poster.

What you have to do:

Through your school teacher or parent, send a short story (limit 2000 words), poem or original artwork about Hen Harriers in Ireland to or post to before 01 June 2015 and include your name, class/year and school address. Feel free to look through for inspiration!

Good luck to all entrants!

Hen Harrier Ireland 01 May 2015

Monday, 20 April 2015

13 - 19 April 2015 Is this a Special Protection Area?

Sun in the blue sky, light winds, hardly a cloud to be seen - what a week it was for watching the six pairs of Hen Harriers in the Stacks to the Mullaghareirk Mountains Special Protection Area that we have singled out for reporting to you through the Hen Harrier diaries. Lots of circling, soaring, dancing and loving by our birds this week! The young pair, pair 6, were especially energetic with both male and female giving as good as they could on the dance floor! We couldn't help but christen the female of this pair as Penny - she is like a shiny new penny!

Last week was made all the more enjoyable by a realisation of just how many Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs have now come to the area from Africa and the Mediterranean. These very welcome visitors add great sound to the locality, and when they breed in numbers, can be a very important part of the local Hen Harriers' diet. Like many birds of prey, Hen Harriers chicks don't hatch or fledge until later than most of their prey species, giving their prey ample opportunity to rear lots of young in advance, meaning that there is more food (prey) available when the harriers need it most (when there are hungry mouths in the nest!).

Willow Warbler - a very welcome summer visitor

Right now is also a very important time in the breeding season as regards food supply - when the adults are pairing off and selecting their territories. The harriers will look for an area with good habitat and food supply for the season ahead - a very important call at such an early stage. Also, the amount of food the females take in at this time will determine how many eggs they will lay - an ecological adaptation to adjust for the amount fo food available. If its looking like a good year ahead for the female, she will lay a good amount of eggs, maybe 5 or 6. If its not looking so great, she may limit this to 3 or 4 eggs. Obviously this has implications for how many young the pair can possibly rear this season. So its great that there has been a good influx of migratory prey species at this important point in the season. We haven't yet seen any food passes this season, but expect to soon, as well as nest building! We have seen all pairs 1-6 show particular interest in particular patches within their territories, such as patches of bramble or gorse, heather or failed patches within forestry.

Has anyone seen any food passes or nest building yet??

There were a couple of things that made us wonder if we were in an SPA for these birds.

Firstly, there was lots of habitat being cleared out - especially the bright yellow furze bushes that add such colour and aroma to the countryside at this time of year. Diggers from the celtic tiger era have certainly found a new home in the uplands - it is clear that much of this is being forced on the farmers by threats of reduced farm payments for having scrub on the land.

Secondly, the amount of fires this week (as in the last few weeks) was horrific. Massive fires that blazed their way through the heather moorland and scrub for hours and hours - one was seen to start at noon on Saturday and was still blazing when the sun came up on Sunday - 19 hours of a fire and thousands of acres destroyed. We haven't seen this reported in any media. This has all become so commonplace now - that doesn't mean it is to be accepted - far from it! This fire took out much of the territory of Pair 3 that we are following. Off to a really difficult start before they even got started.

Much of the territory of Pair 3 has been turned into dust. Red Grouse, Curlew and lots of Meadow Pipits believed to have been wiped out by this illegal fire.

Thirdly, there hills were deafening this weekend by the sounds of a car rally. This is a really sensitive time for the birds in terms of selecting nesting areas and when lots of noisy rally cars are in the area at this time, it has the potential to disturb prospecting pairs. It would be great if the rally could be held a few weeks earlier or later to give the birds that window of opportunity to get settled in, or design the stages in a way that takes them away from traditional nesting areas.

Hopefully this week we'll confirm all birds are still present, despite all the noise, fires and habitat clearance.

It really was a joyous week to be out on the hills with these special birds. This week, we hope to hear our first Cuckoos of 2015, see our first food passes and hopefully even some nest building. The weather is promised good again!

Stay tuned for further updates!

Hen Harrier Ireland.