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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Hen Harrier

Bird Sightings - Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier

(Marsh Hawk, Northern Harrier, Ringtail - female & juvenile)

Circus cyaneus

Gaelic: Bréid-air-tòin, Clamhan-nan-cearc

Photograph © Terry Fountain
Loch Skipport - South Uist - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
6th September, 2006


Our Hen Harrier photographs

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier


  • Hen Harrier
  • Circus cyaneus
  • Gaelic: Brèid-air-tòin, Clamhan-nan-cearc
  • UK: RED LIST, UK 570 pairs (Summer) BTO
  • UK: Migrant/Resident Breeder, Passage/Winter Visitor
  • WI:Uncommon Resident Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs), Passage/Winter Visitor (recorded in low numbers each year)
  • Breeds: Ground nesting in upland moorland: Europe (inc Western isles), North & Central Asia, North America
  • Winters: Aug-Sept resident birds come down from moor and Oct-Mar Continental birds join them to winter. UK, France, Africa, South Asia & South America
  • Habitat: Open areas - low vegetation: moorland. Winter: river valleys, coastal marshes, fields
  • Diet: Small birds, nestlings, small rodents (lots of voles!)
  • Males pale grey above, rump & below white, wings grey with black wingtips
    Females & immatures brown, with white rump, streaked buff below, white upper-tail feathers, giving name "ringtails".
  • Food searching flight: wings held shallow 'V', glides very low, following land contours
  • Max recorded age approx 16 yrs (average approx 7 years)
  • Listen to a Hen Harrier (RSPB site)
  • Similar birds: Marsh Harrier


Hen harriers will roost communally with Merlins


Hen Harrier records in the Western Isles

Uncommon Resident Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs), Passage/Winter Visitor (recorded in low numbers each year) Breeds in the Uists & Benbecula.

The breeding population is of national importance.
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

Estimated 35 breeding pairs in the Uists?

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Hen Harrier is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)


Threats to the Hen Harrier Population

Predates wildfowl like grouse, so competes with people who shoot them...the Hen Harrier is now under threat of extinction. An estimated 1 in 6 birds are shot in Scotland every year.


Egg thieves are still a major problem, in 2001 an egg collector from London was arrested for disturbing Golden Eagles. He was trying to steal eggs from a nest on South Uist.

There is a BBC article written in 2008 about another egg-collector caught with more than 7,000 eggs in his collection,  653 of those eggs were from the UK's most protected species such as the Red-necked Phalarope. He also had eggs from Barn Owls, Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Choughs, Peregrine Falcons, and almost 40 Black-necked Grebe's eggs. (RSPB estimates there are only 40 - 60 breeding pairs of Black-necked Grebes in the whole of the UK....)


  • Keep your eyes open for trouble.
  • Quickly phone the police or RSPB if you are at all worried about the safety of the Hen Harriers.
  • Don't tell people if you know where there are Hen Harrier nests
  • If you know where the Hen Harriers are breeding do not take photographs of them on the nest. Disturb breeding Hen Harriers and you are going to be arrested ...
  • Don't mention where you have seen Hen Harriers during breeding time - (locations where the birds of prey have been sighted at breeding time are kept vague on our bird sightings page).

A lot of people think that egg-collecting does not happen anymore, it is an archaic thing to do in these enlightened times - but sadly the rarer a species becomes the greater a target it is ...




Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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