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Hen harrier (rspb-images.com)

Long in the wing and tail and with a light body, the hen harrier can glide over moors and rough grassland with little apparent effort. Still the victim of illegal persecution, this elegant bird catcher is one of Scotland’s rarest birds of prey.

What to look for

An adult male hen harrier is an exquisite blend of dove-grey body feathers and ink-black wingtips. Females and immatures are mid-brown and streaky. Both sexes have a prominent white crescent of feathers at the rump (where the tail meets the body).

Interesting facts

When the population is large enough, male harriers can have more than one mate. The Scottish record for such a ‘polygynous’ male is held by a bird on Orkney who consorted with six different females in one breeding season. Without illegal persecution, the Scottish hen harrier population could be much larger than at present.

When and where to see

Some of the best chances to see hen harriers can come outside the breeding season, when birds may sometimes use communal roosts. Patches of weed-rich turnips in winter farmland (good for small birds that might provide harrier prey) can be good places to scan. But with such a scarce bird, luck can be a major factor in seeing a hen harrier.

Hotspots

Orkney mainland, North Uist, Islay, Arran and Kintyre.

For more information see the RSPB's hen harrier page.