Isle of Skye Hen Harriers 2013

Breeding Report for Hen Harriers on the Isle of Skye by Bob McMillan

[singlepic id=235 w=320 h=240 float=left]Last year’s breeding season found a significant decline in breeding numbers from the normal 8-10 pairs to around 5 known pairs. The 2013 breeding season commenced with a number of pairs present, but again low numbers, and birds were slow to settle probably as a result of the cold spring and the slow arrival of passerines such as Meadow Pipits which form the main prey base.

The first eggs were not laid until mid May, at least two weeks later than normal.  Although up to 5 pairs may have been present, only three nests were found, all in the core breeding area and two of these nests were from females involved in a polygamous relationship with a single male.  One of these nests subsequently failed on eggs.  Another pair present appeared to consist of sub-adult birds and it is not thought that they made a breeding attempt.

Of the two nests remaining, both were successful fledging a total of 5 young.  Statistically it was therefore a successful season, and unlike previous years there was no evidence of predation by foxes.  However, the continued decline in numbers is extremely worrying and a similar position has been recorded elsewhere, particularly in southern Scotland.

RSPB issued a press release on 9th August reporting that the species was on the brink of extinction in England and putting the blame firmly at the door of persecution on sporting estates.  Whilst there is little doubt that this is a primary cause of decline in some areas, in Skye, where there are no sporting estates, it would be difficult to blame persecution.  The cause of decline is in my view much more complex.  I am extremely grateful to the many observers who send me records through the website – these are invaluable in trying to piece together the breeding population.

Bob McMillan

Isle Of Skye August 2013

5 comments to Isle of Skye Hen Harriers 2013

  • John Miles

    Scotland’s island harriers continue to increase. Interesting observations on northern Mull this year, only saw birds being brought in as prey and Short eared owls non existent. If Skye birds are moving south for the winter then this might be the reason for decline as they are removed from roosts and Red Grouse moors. Red Deer numbers are another reason for a decline due to over grazing and the tick numbers which can be extreme resulting in the removal of voles

  • Bob, I very much agree with your comment “The cause of decline is in my view much more complex”.
    I too have a gut feeling that there is an X-factor, along with persecution involved in the demise of this fantastic raptor.

  • paul williams

    Two years of failed Hen Harriers in Bowland = Zero. What should be adopted is Zero Tolerance to persecution.We at the North West Raptor Protection Group are doing our best….What are the rest of you doing?

  • Sue Wearne

    I saw a female hen harrier quartering the marsh at Glen Brittle ( campsite road) on Tuesday 26th may 2015 at about 8.15 am.

  • Kev

    We saw male hen harrier hovering above heather moorland very close to Road edge just as you leave Uig heading up towards the Quiraing b road on the 11th September 2015 about 10 15 am