Hen Harriers in Ireland

The magnificent Hen Harrier is one of Ireland’s rarest native birds of prey. To be lucky enough to see one, as I have on a small number of occasions, is truly a gift.

I remember the first time I saw a Hen Harrier, I was transfixed. It was an adult male, in his blue/grey coat with those extraordinary jet black wing tips. He was virtually floating as he flew so gracefully and slowly around me. I recall commenting to another person that it was “as if he was reading a book as he flew”.

While the male is very distinctive, the female – somewhat bigger – can be confused with a Buzzard, thanks to her mottled brown feathers. Her distinguishing mark is a very white band that runs across her back and can be seen in flight. Note also how the bird has an owl-like ‘disc’ face. Males measure around 50 cm in height and have a wingspan of 120 cm.

hen harriers in ireland
The most surprising sighting I’ve enjoyed was when guiding a small group up a Mayo mountain. At some 450 m altitude, one of the party wasn’t feeling the best, so decided to sit down and take a rest (we would later decide to abandon the hike and descend). I turned around to have a drink and straight in front of me a Hen Harrier was floating around the mountain looking for a bite to eat, barely 10 m above the ground.

When it comes to Hen Harriers in Ireland, the person ‘in charge’ is Barry O’Donoghue of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Barry can be contacted with any sightings, at 087-9110715. He gave a nice interesting talk about Hen Harriers here in Castlebar early this year.

Also, I came across this lovely heart-warming video about a man’s great interest in the Hen Harrier in Scotland and how he made it his job to look after this iconic and little-known bird. See how he is passing on his love of the bird to his young son. Magic.

Hen Harriers in Ireland

The Hen Harrier is in trouble in Ireland, due to a variety of reasons, one of which is the continuing afforestation of uplands, leading to loss of suitable habitat for breeding. Writing this update in 2017, I haven’t seen one in Mayo for four years. My only recent sighting was a casual one in Leitrim during spring of this year, where I was lucky enough to spot a male over fields while waiting to meet somebody. Another special moment.

Take a look at Birdwatch Ireland’s webpage about this magnificent bird.