hen harrier

Endangered hen harriers fitted with satellite tagging tech

Image credit: Dreamstime

A record number of hen harrier chicks have been fitted with satellite tags this year by the RSPB as part of its Hen Harrier Life project to secure the future of the threatened bird species.

So far more than 30 of the young birds have been tagged, the majority of them in Scotland. This is the fourth year in a row that the project has fitted satellite tags on hen harrier chicks.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, project manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life project, said: “Satellite tagging technology has taught us so much about the movements of hen harriers.

“We can follow individual stories, from the birds that make huge journeys crossing over seas to those that stay closer to home and only move short distances from where they were hatched.

“We’ve discovered new nesting places and winter roosting sites, which help us protect the birds when they are at their most vulnerable.

“The tags also allow us to investigate where and in what circumstances these hen harrier chicks are lost so we can better understand how to protect them and advocate for licensing of driven grouse shooting.

“This species is only just holding on in the UK; it’s both heart-breaking and infuriating that year after year many of these chicks disappear in suspicious circumstances.

“The loss of birds in this way is both needless and senseless and cannot go on.”

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds with a population decline due to habitat disturbance and illegal killing, according to the RSPB.

The charity hopes that by tracking the movements of the threatened birds of prey, it builds up a clearer picture of where hen harriers go and where they are at risk.

Of the birds tagged in 2017, almost 40 per cent are known to have died from natural causes, in line with low survival rates.

The charity said that over a quarter of last year’s chicks disappeared in suspicious circumstances, with transmissions from tags suddenly stopping around grouse moors.

The latest national survey of hen harriers, carried out in 2016, found the UK population has declined by 24 per cent since 2004.

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