Ep 8 - Hen Harriers

In Your Nature

Friday, 21 July 2023 - 52 minutes

This weeks' episode features Dr. Alan McCarthy of BirdWatch Ireland discussing Hen Harriers, their ecology, pressures facing these birds, conservation efforts for this species, and his PhD research on this enigmatic species. Alan's PhD research focused on both breeding and wintering aspects of Hen Harrier ecology in Ireland. Among other things, his research focused on Hen Harrier diet, their winter roost characteristics, as well as satellite tracking Hen Harriers tagged as nestlings, year-round. This latter portion of Alan's work provided information on how far young Hen Harriers disperse, their survival rates, the habitats they use and the age at which they begin breeding.

Alan speaks eloquently about the pressures facing Hen Harriers, particularly afforestation of upland sites. Afforestation has resulted in declines in natural prey and causes Hen Harriers significant difficulty when hunting any available prey, in comparison to open landscapes. In addition, while Hen Harriers will nest in young conifer plantations, these habitats are predator rich, and predation of Hen Harrier nests is a significant pressure in these habitat types. Intensification of agricultural land has also led to a reduction in prey abundance at these sites, placing them under significant pressure both during the breeding and wintering seasons.

Niall speaks about how measures to save the Hen Harrier benefit not only other species through habitat restoration, but can also benefit local economies through job creation.

Bird of the Week is the Marsh Harrier, a species which is dependent on reedbed habitat and preys on species such as Coot, Teal and Common Frogs. In recent years the Marsh Harrier has returned to Ireland as a breeding species, with a handful of pairs breeding in Ireland. Marsh Harriers, like Hen Harriers and other harrier species, use sky dancing and food passes as part of their breeding display to reinforce the pair bond.

In Your Nature features Ricky Whelan, Biodiversity Officer with Offaly County Council in conversation with Niall Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland and is edited by Ann-Marie Kelly. The series is supported by Laois, Offaly, and Westmeath County Councils and the Heritage Council.

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