Autumn Nature Highlights – spotlight on the hen harrier

The hen harrier is one of the North West’s very special residents and can be spotted flying high over the wild untamed moors of the Forest of Bowland.

This is one of Britain’s rarest birds; it spends the summer months breeding in upland areas before heading for the southern shores of England in autumn, so now is a great time to spot them!

Hen harrier

Our native Hen Harriers are very often joined by harriers from continental Europe who fly here in the hope of enjoying a mild winter. Their survival in England and Scotland is mostly threatened because of their effect on the number of grouse available to shoot on the moors.


Hen harriers are part of the hawk and eagle raptor bird family and like to eat small birds, including grouse chicks and small animals. The males are a pale grey colour and the females and their young are brown with a distinctive white rump and a long barred tail. They are easily identified by their wings which are a shallow ‘V’ shape when gliding silently in search of food.

During the breeding season (March to August), they can be found in the upland heather moorlands of Northern West England, the Isle of Man, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In winter they prefer lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and the river valleys in the milder south.


It is estimated that there are fewer than 700 pairs in the UK, so the hen harrier is a protected bird on the very brink of survival. If you do see one it’s a sight rarely forgotten, their famous ‘skydance’ is one of the most amazing natural aerobatic spectacles you will ever see!

The males and females swoop, roll and glide in graceful patterns around each other, an impressive courtship display forming a bond at the beginning of the breeding season in March.

Take a look at our Nature Infographic to see what other wildlife can be seen at this time of the year in the UK. You can click on the links to search for holiday cottages nearby.

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