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Hen Harrier
Circus cyaneus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: 

Circus cyaneus
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Distribution: Indomalayan/Palearctic. Europe, including the BRITISH ISLES and Iberian Peninsula, east across northern Eurasia to SIBERIA, northwestern CHINA, and MONGOLIA to KAMCHATKA; winters in southern Europe, North Africa, Mediterranean Basin, Middle East, INDIA, southeastern CHINA, JAPAN, and northernmost Southeast Asia (MYANMAR, VIETNAM), with stragglers moving south into the Malay Peninsula. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Recently separated from the Northern Harrier, C. cyaneus, of North America, based on an analysis of nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene by Wink et al. (1998), who was followed by Simmons (2000) and Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001). Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) confirmed a close relationship between this species, C. hudsonius, C. cinereus, C. macrourus, and C. maurus, based on cytochrome b evidence. more....

Movements: Partial long-distance migrant (Bildstein 2006). Birds breeding in the north and east of their range are migratory, with those from northern and northwestern Europe wintering in western, central, and southern Europe (Netherlands, France, Iberia, Britain, and Ireland) as far south as the Mediterranean Basin (Brown and Grice 2005). Males tend to winter farther south than females. more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in a wide variety of open habitats from tundra and taiga to desert, preferring fields, meadows, river valleys, reedbeds, plains, and other open areas in the vicinity of water. In the British Isles, breeding habitats include dry grassland, moorland, heathland, river valley meadows, fens and sand dunes, generally below 500 m (Brown and Grice 2005), and cereal crops are utilized in Spain. In Armenia, wintering birds prefer semidesert areas of uncultivated alkaline soils covered with tamarisk and shrubby vegetation away from human activity (Adamian and Klem 1999). On the winter range in North Africa, it occurs in cultivated and steppe areas (Isenmann and Maoli 2000). This species roosts communally in winter in England (Clarke et al. 1997) and often with other harrier species, as in Greece (Handrinos and Akriotis 1997). Often cautious and difficult to approach, but perches on fenceposts. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on small rodents, birds (mostly sandpipers and passerines), lizards, and insects in Russia (Flint 1984) and mammals (voles and rabbits) and birds (pipits, larks, small waders, and grouse) in England (Brown and Grice 2005). Owing to sexual size dimorphism, prey taken by females is larger than that taken by the males.more....

Breeding: Nests on the ground, often in swamps or reed beds, and builds a flat nest platform of grass (Flint 1984). Clutch size is 4-6 eggs. more....

Conservation: Widespread and locally common in many areas, but a patchily distributed breeder across much of northern and central Europe, which accounts for less than one quarter of its global range. The European breeding population underwent a large decline between 1970-1990. The decline abated somewhat from 1990-2000, with many populations stabilizing, and numbers have declined only slightly overall in last decade. Because the European population remains far below the level that preceded its decline, it is classified as "Depleted" in Europe (BirdLife International 2004). It is still scarce in Great Britain, where it has suffered a long history of habitat loss and persecution (Brown and Grice 2005), and the breeding populations are probably slowly declining in several other countries. Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The European population was estimated at 22,000 to 31,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council 2000), but this estimate was soon revised upward at 32,000 to 59,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). more....

Important References: 
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
Clarke, R., M. Combridge, and P. Combridge. 1997. A comparison of the
  feeding ecology of wintering Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus centred on two
  heathland areas in England. Ibis 139:4-18.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Orta, J. 1994. Hen Harrier. P. 139 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J.
  Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World vultures
  to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Redpath, S. 1991. The impact of Hen Harriers on Red Grouse breeding
  success. Journal of Applied Ecology 28:659-671.
Simmons, R. 2000. Harriers of the world: their behaviour and ecology.
  Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Thirgood, S.J., S.M. Redpath, I. Newton, P. Rothery, and N. Aebischer.
  2000. Raptor predation and population limitation in Red Grouse. Journal of
  Animal Ecology 69:504-516.
Watson, D. 1977. The Hen Harrier. T & AD Poyser, Berkhamstead,
  Hertfordshire, UK.

Sites of Interest:
Hen Harrier conservation
Devoted to the conservation of the Hen Harrier in England.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.

Amar, Arjun
Camina, Alvaro
Deshmukh, Ajit
Ma, Ming
O'Donoghue, Barry
Pickford, Terry
Saharudin, Muhd Hakim
Schröpfer, Libor
Scott, Don
Smith, Jeff
Sutton, Luke
Villers, Alexandre

Last modified: 3/2/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 30 May. 2020

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