Skydancer returns

four grey hen harrier chicks in nest

This year, the ‘skydancer’ has returned to the Peak District. After four years of absence, a hen harrier nest was found this spring by a volunteer on the High Peak moors, and the four chicks have fledged successfully.

The bird’s nickname comes from its amazing acrobatic flight, and now it’s really exciting that more of us will now be able to see the skydance of a bird that’s been rare for such a long time.

We have been on a mission for some years now to work with other moorland lovers to create the right conditions for the hen harrier and other birds of prey to thrive again on the High Peak moors.

Harriers feed on small mammals like voles along with ground nesting birds, such as pipits, but they can take game birds like red grouse and their young, particularly when vole numbers are low. Despite being protected by law, studies have found that hen harrier numbers in the UK have been constrained by illegal population control associated with grouse moor management. Working with our tenants we are trying to show it doesn’t have to be like this.

Male hen harrier 'skydancer' in flight
male silver and black hen harrier in flight grey sky
Male hen harrier 'skydancer' in flight

We lease much of the High Peak moorland for grouse shooting, and all shooting tenants have signed up to actively support our High Peak Moors Vision, working to improve numbers of birds of prey.  

The gamekeeper working for the tenant of the moorland where the nest was found has joined volunteers from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group in looking out for the birds, alongside National Trust staff and volunteers, members of the South Peak Raptor Study Group, and Natural England. With support from our our members we've bought nest cameras to watch the chicks and parents.

We've asked the public to suggest names for one male and one female- the most popluar choices via social media were Octavia and Arthur, after Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust and Sir Arthur Hobhouse who proposed the National Parks Legislation Act. You'll be able to look out for Octavia and Arthur's progress online, look for updates on our social media channels:.https://www.facebook.com/PeakDistrictNT/ or https://twitter.com/peakdistrictnt

Female hen harrier in flight
female brown hen harrier in flight carrying grass in beak
Female hen harrier in flight

Chicks from the nest have been ringed and fitted with small satellite trackers under the RSPB and European Commission funded ‘Hen Harrier LIFE+’ project. The tags will monitor the birds’ movements as they leave the nest and grow into adults so we will be able to track them wherever they go, and hopefully we might see them return to breed successfully in the Peak District again. You will be able to follow the young hen harriers’ movements via social media and the RSPB LIFE+ project’s internet site. 

2018 looks like being a good year for many breeding birds of prey across the High Peak Moors. Thanks to the tireless work of the local raptor monitoring groups and our own volunteers, we know there are successful nests for goshawk, peregrine falcons, merlin and buzzard, and the short-eared owl seems to be breeding on the moors in the largest numbers for quite a few years.