Hen Harrier – Claimín na Gcearc
The longest lifespan reported is 16 years and 5 months. The average is 16.6 months. The male and female differ so much in appearance that historically people believed they were two different species of bird. Males are grey with black tipped wings, females are much larger with brown feathers. Both have a distinctive white rump and barred tails giving them the nickname “ring-tails”. Their wingspan is between 99cm – 122cm. They glide with their wings held in its characteristic shallow V.
At the start of the breeding season, in late March, the male hen harrier performs a breath-taking tumbling, somersaulting display that involved plummeting towards the ground then rearing up almost vertically before dropping suddenly again. Hen Harriers nest on the ground laying 4-6 pale blue eggs once a year. The female guards the nest while the male hunts. Males may mate with more than one female and will hunt for each nest.
Harriers feed on small birds, mammals & occasionally reptiles, amphibians and large insects. Males returning from a successful hunting trip deliver food to their mates in a spectacular aerial manoeuvre called a ‘food pass’. As he approaches the nest area, the male calls to the female, who rises to meet him. The male then either drops the food for the female to catch, or delivers it to her directly in mid-air, his mate swinging upside down beneath him to take the prey from his feet into the grasp of her own talons. The most recent Birdwatch Ireland survey in 2015 estimated the population to be 108-157 breeding pairs.
If you see a Hen Harrier… A scheme has been developed to find out where the Hen Harriers are going and coloured tags on the back of wings will help tell us where. If you spot a Hen Harrier at any time of year, please contact: Sandra Irwin at firstname.lastname@example.org or Barry O Donoghue – 0879110715, email@example.com Watch our Wildlife Wednesday Video here for more fun facts