Orkney Birds of Prey

Hen-harrier:  this is Orkney's most common bird of prey, with currently some 80 breeding females.  The females outnumber males by about 3:1 and so they have a polygamous breeding system with each male having a harem of several females.  While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food.  Elsewhere in Britain, hen harriers are illegally persecuted by gamekeeping interests who claim that they take too many grouse.  In Orkney we are fortunate that there is no driven grouse shooting and our hen harriers are left to breed in peace.

Short-eared owl:  also known as cattie faces, this is the only nesting owl in Orkney.  Breeding pairs have been found on Eday, Hoy, the mainland, Rousay, Sanday, South Ronaldsay and Stronsay.  The highest number are on the mainland and they are regularly seen around the airport in Tankerness.  You won’t see them much in mid-winter (because they become more nocturnal) but they start to show around February through till October.  Probably about 50 pairs nest in the islands.  Their main prey is the Orkney vole, this small mammal making up as much as 90% of the food of many of our owls.

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The August issue of Birdwatch hits the newsstands today!
June turned up a couple of fantastic rarities in the returning Bridled Tern, which travelled from Fair Isle to Northumberland, and Scops Owl on Orkney and then Shetland, and we have finder's accounts of these and the White-throated Sparrow in Argyll.
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