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 – it was an adult male, in his whity/bluey/grey coat with those extraordinary jet black wing tips – I was transfixed. 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 scross her back and can be seen in flight. Note also how the bird has an owl-like ‘disc’ face. Males measure around 50 cm high with a wingspan of 120 cm.
The most surprising sighting I’ve enjoyed was when guiding a small group up a Mayo mountain. At some 550 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 abort 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.
Here in Ireland, the person ‘in charge of’ Hen Harriers 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.