Hen Harriers – Langholm in the Scottish Borders

[singlepic id=133 w=400 h=317 float=left]Hen harriers were first recorded at Langholm in the 1980s and for several years there were between 2 and 5 pairs. The hen harrier is the qualifying feature of the Newcastleton Hills SPA and the site is of international importance for this species. Other large predatory birds which regularly breed at Langholm include the peregine and the raven.

Numbers of hen harriers at Langholm rose rapidly during the Joint Raptor Study to over 20 breeding pairs but declined back after the project was closed down to earlier levels. Some changes in harrier numbers and breeding success are caused by changes in vole and meadow pipit numbers which are their principal prey and which influence where they settle on the moor in spring. Observers watching one particular nest several years ago recorded a female harrier catching common lizards; on average bring one lizard into the nest to feed her chicks every five to ten minutes.

This year Scientists are maintaining a close watch on two active hen harrier nests at Langholm. The first nest containing five chicks, one female and four males, are all doing very well. Each of the five nestlings have been tagged and two birds have been fitted with satellite transmitters.

The second pair of harriers nest also containes a brood of five chicks. Diversionary feeding has started, with this female needing food to be placed in the nest to start her off.. The five merlin nests each containing 3 chicks on the moor are also doing well, despite the heavy rain this year. Three broods of merlin chicks have been rung.

What is significant and interesting about this successful initiate, estate gamekeepers are supporting the project. The size of each of the two broods  of hen harriers this year also highlights an important factor, where persecution has been eliminated the hen harrier appears to do very well, despite the terrible weather at Langholm this year.

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