RSPB Caught on camera: Eagle Owl raids Hen Harrier nest


This page contains 49 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Sun 13/06/10 10:13).

Natural England and the RSPB confirmed today that an Eagle Owl in Bowland, Lancashire has been filmed on CCTV attacking a nesting female Hen Harrier — one of England's rarest birds of prey.

Eagle Owl
Eagle Owl, Germany (Photo: Siegbert Werner)

Whilst the owl was still present a few hours later, the incubating harrier has not been seen again and its nest has now failed.

Bowland has increasingly established itself as the last remaining stronghold for the Hen Harrier — a bird that has been driven to extinction in most other parts of the country. Last year there were only six successful nests across the whole of England — and, with numbers critically low, the news of Eagle Owl predation at Bowland is a significant blow to the Hen Harrier's future.

Hen Harrier
Hen Harrier, undisclosed site, Lancashire (Photo: Sean Gray)

Dr Tom Tew, Chief Scientist for Natural England, said: "Eagle Owls — a non-native species — are a recent arrival in Lancashire, following their probable escape from captivity. The nest-cam footage confirms suspicions that they are impacting on Hen Harrier breeding success in Bowland."

"The additional threat posed by Eagle Owls, to an already threatened population of Hen Harriers, raises significant questions about the future survival of this native breeding bird in England. There will be an opportunity at the end of the breeding season to weigh up the evidence and assess how to proceed with the Hen Harrier recovery project".

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "Hen Harrier numbers in England are perilously low due to years of illegal shooting and poisoning. Last year saw just six successful nests in the whole country — four in Bowland. It is vital we do not lose them from this last stronghold."

"It is hugely important that we reach a decision on Eagle Owls soon, but that decision has to be based on solid evidence."

"While dramatic, we must remember this footage is still just part of the picture. Monitoring of Eagle Owls is continuing at various sites across the UK and all the evidence gathered will be assessed at end of the breeding season."

Related pages

Hen Harrier Hen Harrier
Eagle Owl Eagle Owl
Lancashire Lancashire

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hide section Reader comments (49)

Eagle Owls not native? Are you sure about that? There are archaelogical records to begin with (The History of British Birds, D.W. Yalden and U. Albarella, Oxford.). Re-colonisation also not out of the question in the post-persecution era , though that obviously doesn't include Hen Harriers! And did folk notice the lack of Buzzards at Blorenge over the weekend? Shocking.
   Matt Jordan, 09/06/10 18:13Report inappropriate post Report 
The Langholm project is wasting £3.5 million of tax payers money on white rats for 1 pr of Hen Harriers when Golden Eagle and now Eagle Owl will help Red Grouse moor owners disperse Hen Harriers for free. But sadly these Red Grouse moor owners do not want even these birds on their land and 95% of them kill Birds of Prey protected by Natural England/Scottish Natural Heritage for public relation reasons. The damage these shooting estates do to the SSSIs by creating roads all over them out way an public relations. Fortunately the government is now going to slash the jobs in these organisations.
   John Miles, 09/06/10 18:30Report inappropriate post Report 
Can we see the CCTV footage? Sounds like it will be worth a look.
   Hugh Pugh, 09/06/10 18:38Report inappropriate post Report 
There is archaeological evidence for woolly mammoths too! However, the British Isles have changed a wee bit since then and Eagle Owls have NOT been proven to occur naturally during the last several hundred years. Cull these escaped Eagle Owls now before (like other escapees/deliberate releases before them) they become too widespread to contain!
   Puffin, 09/06/10 19:23Report inappropriate post Report 
Any decision on the Eagle Owl must be non-emotive. No one likes to see the decline of the English Hen Harrier population however it must be remembered that the primary reason for the low numbers is similar to the intolerance shown from some land owners to the Red Kite in Scotland. Whilst the majority of Eagle Owl's are presumed to descend from escaped birds, there is increasing evidence that natural or re-colonisation is occuring, perhaps in the same way that the Sea Eagle will eventually return to East Anglia, with both species expanding in numbers and range across Europe.
   Mike, 09/06/10 19:31Report inappropriate post Report 
With so little ground left for nesting birds of prey on moorland it is not surprising that there is conflict between these birds of prey. If only they could spread out on the rest of moorland but they are then removed by Red Grouse moor owners. It is not the case that Britain is too small an island for such a native owl but sadly the island has too many greedy land owners who do not want to share the land with others.
   john miles, 09/06/10 19:43Report inappropriate post Report 
Hey Puffin - Wooly Mammoth is extinct. But if it weren't I for one would be in favour of it being reintroduced to the Highlands, if not the Peak District (for my England list). And Mike - there is no need to cull Eagle Owls, and any suggestion that they are all derived from escapes is supposition. Given the variety of races of Eagle Owl in captivity we would expect wild deriviatives to show hybrid features not European phenotype. So let's embrace the Eagle Owl. Hen Harrier is rare because it is persecuted - end of story. Cull the recalcitrant gamekeepers not the Eagle Owls.
   Hugh Pugh, 09/06/10 19:45Report inappropriate post Report 
This link gives an interesting side to the story: http://www.owls.org/Archive/feathersfly.htm. To be honest I agree with Hugh and John - the ruthless killing of Hen Harriers by gamekeepers has to stop - tonnes more Hen Harriers are killed each year by gamekeepers than Eagle Owls.
   Sam Viles, 09/06/10 20:02Report inappropriate post Report 
And of course there's the recent stable isotope analysis of a dead Eagle Owl found in Norfolk in November 2006 - [Kelly, Leighton & Newton (2010), British Birds 103:213-222] which strongly suggested an origin in Scandinavia, north-continental Europe or mid-continental Russia for this bird. If this were the case then it is possible that natural recolonisation may already occurring, masked by the phenomenon of escapes. In turn, Eagle Owls would then have to be given full protection under the law. If further work proved a natural origin for some at least of the Eagle Owls, wouldn't it be a shame if by then we had culled the 40 pairs currently estimated to be in the UK because of a knee-jerk reaction?
   Russ Heselden, 09/06/10 22:01Report inappropriate post Report 
Non-native or non-potentially native - how ridiculous - for somebody to suggest culling a colonising bird of prey because it affects his pet project ! Get real and prosecute the real villains ie the gamekeepers ? Mind you if Prince Harry can use Harriers as target practice and get away with it what do you expect ! and dont expect certain elements of the Police to be relied on to not lose evidence as they did with the Mute Swans and Grey Heron etc that a syndicate were busy knocking off in...more more
   Laurie Allan, 10/06/10 06:29Report inappropriate post Report 
What a great reply Laurie. You know there was a job going as the head of the RSPB. Shame you did not apply for it.
   john miles, 10/06/10 08:07Report inappropriate post Report 
Whilst on the thorny subject of persecution of birds of prey, I would add that I know of a Peregrine nest site in the Borders from which, not only did the eggs and the adults disappear, but the ledge itself was destroyed. I'm sure that wasn't an Eagle Owl! Maybe it was someone from the Save Our Songbirds organisation?
   dave taylor, 10/06/10 09:22Report inappropriate post Report 
With the chief scientists of both Natural England and RSPB trying to put the boot in the face of the Eagle Owl is it not sad that the same two people have done little to protect Birds of Prey in this country! Why have they never attacked the land owners who pay these guys to kill Birds of Prey? All we hear is that they are working with the'land managers' by paying them £millions through Environmental Stewardship. So where are all these new birds they have produced!! Certainly not Birds of Prey or Black Grouse. Black Grouse have expanded on the RSPB reserve of Geltsdale where other populations crashed this winter and did I not hear that that was due to them having one of the top Birds of Prey on their land even keeping the foxes away!!
   john miles, 10/06/10 10:00Report inappropriate post Report 
Eagle Owls are as "native" as the White Tailed Eagles that the RSPB want to introduce into East Anglia, where the effects on rare breeding birds will be even more devastating !
   Peter, 10/06/10 10:09Report inappropriate post Report 
With an estimated 9-10 captive Eagle Owls escaping into the wild every year, and all other things taken into account, if we're talking about the balance of probability it seems reasonable to assume these birds aren't natural (re?-)coloniser. That's why it's very troubling to read this story, and disappointing to see certain well known BOP conservationists joining the welcome party for this species. Yes, landowners should be held more responsible for their disregard/antipathy for our native birds of prey, but why in the mean time we should accept another man-made threat to Hen Harriers is beyond me.
   James, 10/06/10 10:43Report inappropriate post Report 
Eagle owls don't occur naturally? I have spoken to fisherman working on boats in the north sea who have had Eagle Owls land on their boats half way between Denmark and England and watched them fly towards the English coast. Of course these birds can make it to our shores alone. I am gutted about the state of Hen Harriers in this country but the RSPB should protect birds like the Eagle owl as well.
   matthew, 10/06/10 10:52Report inappropriate post Report 
Well said james, nice to hear the voice of reason instead of getting caught up in this lets slagg off the Gamekeepers even though that has nothing at all to do with this article.
   Adam williams, 10/06/10 11:26Report inappropriate post Report 
Laurie - OT from the article but the Eastern Europen immigrants eating swan story was easily discredited as a load of b*ll*cks made up by the right wing press. The reason the police didn't do anything about it was because it wasn't real. Don't believe everything you read in the Daily Heil...
   Pete, 10/06/10 13:58Report inappropriate post Report 
Matthew - Brilliant answer. There seems to be this idea in some people that birds stay where the text books tell them to be, and don't move of their own accord ! Are some forgetting the Avocet and Gadwall made it back here on their own, and with climate change should we be expecting more European residents ? The relative populations of Hen Harriers on the UK mainland and the Isle of Man strongly indicates that humans are the problem, not other birds.
   DavidE, 10/06/10 14:43Report inappropriate post Report 
In all the debate about what is and what is not a UK native species, please bear in mind that the UK is a rather small island in the estuary of the Rhine. Anything that lives on the mainland and can fly is likely to end up here at some point. When I was young, Collared Turtle Doves were only found in the eastern Med. Now ...
   Stewart, 10/06/10 16:47Report inappropriate post Report 
i agree with peter, i have been arguing with the powers that be for years, over the white tailed eagles on the isle of mull, where i have been studying the raptors there for thirty four years, as the white tailed eagles grew in numbers they not only took lambs but adult sheep, but the worst thing they started killing golden eagles, five up to date, one of the w,t.eagle killed a female golden eagle then paired up with her mate, they built and laid for a number of years fourtunatly the eggs were infertile, i have prove of all these, with letters from the powers admiting that it did happen, i have hed corospondence with english nature regarding the realease of white tailed in east anglian, be warned if they do your can say goodbye to a lot of rare birds, mac cook
   mac cook, 10/06/10 16:59Report inappropriate post Report 
Well i guess this was on the cards at some stage (Eagle Owls attacking rare english birds of prey), it will be fascinating to see what the decision is that the RSPB come to, regarding Eagle Owls. The comment that fishermen have seen Eagle Owls come aboard ships in between England and Denmark, surely 99% of these refer to Long eared Owls? But nontheless it would be foolish to automatically rule out a wild origin for some of the British Eagle Owls, as the young from nests in England and Europe have been shown to disperse long enough distances to turn up here as vagrants and thats without ship assistance. And when you think about it the idea of a large owl crossing the North sea is'nt really that out of the question is it with hundreds of Long eareds doing it every spring and autumn and Snowy Owls obviously flying accross open water to get here.
   Antony Disley, 10/06/10 17:58Report inappropriate post Report 
They are catching birds and they are snaring swans i have seen it locally here in the West Mids and down on the Wye - i would'nt wipe my @rse on the rag that you mention - i know of 3 escaped Eagle Owls locally - they are all Oriental type things - as far as i know it is not easy and possibly illegal to obtain the European birds altho u must be able to buy captive-ringed - i would have thought it possible to ascertain at known nests whether birds are Euro-types and if so what is the...more more
   Laurie Allan, 10/06/10 19:03Report inappropriate post Report 
Some emotive comments here, as might be expected. The bottom line is that most Eagle Owls in the U.K. are escaped from private collections or hunts which use them to flush and kill foxes, and the majority of these birds are the Asian species "Bengali". We need Hen Harriers, we do not need introduced Eagle Owls - full stop.
   Dr Colin Key, 10/06/10 20:10Report inappropriate post Report 
I'm not sure what angle the RSPB/Natural England are coming from here - are they trying to say that Eagle Owls, introduced or otherwise, pose a threat to the Hen Harrier population? We all know why there are so few Hen Harriers in this country. You can walk for miles over the North Pennines and be tripping over Red Grouse but there is more chance of Malta winning the world cup than seeing a harrier or any other large predator. No offence against the Maltese - infact we have a nerve slagging them off for hunting when so many birds are killed legally and illegally in this country. At least Maltese conservationists aren't afraid to confront the hunters, while we just wring our hands and bemoan the slow but sure extinction of the Hen Harrier in England.
   Archie, 10/06/10 21:08Report inappropriate post Report 
typical shooter response. Kill them! No, it's the humans killing the numbers of Hen Harriers (Sandringham and everywhere else) that are the problem, not the odd Eagle Owl. Foxes in houses. Kill them!! The RSPB needs to cast off the rules banning it from confronting shooting before the Hen Harriers, and others, are truly extinct in these Islands.
   Michael Cox, 10/06/10 21:51Report inappropriate post Report 
Colin, I note you are a Dr., so presumably went to university where you would undoubtedly be taught that all statements need to be quantified? So could you now enlighten the rest of us by quantifying your statement "Most Eagle Owls in the UK are escaped from private collections or hunts which use them to flush and kill foxes, and the majority of these birds are of the Asian species 'Bengali'. By the latter I take it you have decided to rename the Indian Eagle Owl Bubo bengalensis - a Bengali...more more
   Tony Warburton, 10/06/10 23:17Report inappropriate post Report 
Tony W. - Yes, un-quantified twaddle written on this subject above. Thanks for your clear and objective comments, even if rather critically pointed in some directions. I think it justified and agree. I spend a lot of time in West Bengal, will see if I can spot the apparent difference.
   DavidE, 11/06/10 00:24Report inappropriate post Report 
Might I suggest that some respondents here do a bit of research on the status of Eagle Owls - begin by Googling "Eagle Owls in U.K." and take it from there.
   Dr Colin Key, 11/06/10 09:14Report inappropriate post Report 
Colin, your original post states that 'most Eagle Owls in the U.K. are escaped from private collections or hunts' but does not say all and that is part of the problem in resolving this issue. To my mind there are a number of considerations: 1. How do we increase the population of hen harriers in England? e.g. land management/game issues. 2. If Bengal (Indian) Eagle Owls are found in the wild, how do we remove them? (Sizewise they are smaller than Europeans) 3. How do we regulate falconry collections i.e. to prevent escapes? e.g. do we ban Eagle Owls from collections and if so, would this lead to mass release? 4. How do we treat natural colonisation of European Eagle Owls? e.g. do we assume all are escapes, do we cull because we don't like their possible impacts on UK species - I assume they live side by side species in other countries, so ultimately won't a natural equilibrium be reached? As I said on my earlier post, we need to stop taking an emotive approach to this issue.
   Mike, 11/06/10 09:43Report inappropriate post Report 
Surely the bulk of these posts are missing the point. Were the Hen Harrier a relatively common bird this would just be an interesting story and indeed be part of the 'Eagle Owls in the UK' debate. The key point however is that due to the actions of landowners and shooters we have a species on the verge of extinction in the UK, so that when Eagle Owl disturbing this breeding attempt it is of national significance. A clue, the answer isn't to do with Eagle Owls...
   Michael Cox, 11/06/10 10:08Report inappropriate post Report 
Michael, I don't believe these posts miss the point, the fact is that any work the RSPB is doing with landowners is now potentially undermined by the presence of Eagle Owl's, especially when evidence of nest disturbation is brought to light and whether we like it or not, the RSPB statement by Dr Mark Avery have brought Eagle Owls into the debate. We just need to ensure that the Eagle Owl is not subject to double standards e.g. we can accept Goshawk's whose UK population was probably boosted by escapes, we can reintroduce W-T-Eagles, Osprey, Red Kites and Golden Eagles, but we do not seem to be able to accept Eagle Owls, despite increasing evidence suggesting that some (not all) of the birds present are or could be from Europe.
   Mike, 11/06/10 11:08Report inappropriate post Report 
Mike, I cannot provide answers to your questions above. If you do some research (O.K. not everything on the web is true, but you can get a consensus from what appear to be reliable sources) you find that there are very large numbers of Eagle Owls in captivity (and apparently 50 hunts are now using them and/or Golden Eagles to flush foxes) which have a habit of escaping. A notional figure given on a post on Birdforum is 3,000 individuals, but could be more. Another post said that someone who...more more
   Dr Colin Key, 11/06/10 12:02Report inappropriate post Report 
Colin, some great points made. If as you say there are so many Eagle Owls in use, then clearly culling the current 'at large' population is only one part of the solution e.g. we cull and then they get replaced either by escapees or natural colonisers. As I said on my earlier post #30 there are a number of factors that need to be considered here, its not quite so black and white. Irrespective of what happens on Eagle Owl's the Hen Harrier is up against it unless we change the behaviour of some indisciminate landowners/game keepers, because without the availability of secure habitat Hen Harrier's in England have very little survival prospects.
   Mike, 11/06/10 15:02Report inappropriate post Report 
Mike, I realise that the Hen Harrier problem is much bigger and broader than the responses to this article on the Eagle Owl incident suggest, and in some ways the fact that it was an Eagle Owl and a Hen Harrier involved rather clouds the issues. I also do not think that this is a problem which can be resolved by ornithologists, conservation bodies, etc. It is a political, legal and sociological problem which has many threads; until the government brings in legislation and sufficiently severe...more more
   Dr Colin Key, 11/06/10 17:37Report inappropriate post Report 
Interesting stuff from both sides of the debate. The question in my mind is just how much damage are the eagle owls causing when compared to the shooting mob? In these times, where money is all that counts, the only chance for saving any species is to make individual animals worth more money alive than dead. We are heading for a time when the UK has all, or most, of it's native species neatly parcelled up in small pockets of suitable land and we as wildlife watchers will say today I want to see a hen harrier and here is where I go to see them. This will be the legacy we leave our successors.
   steve, 11/06/10 18:01Report inappropriate post Report 
A very emotive issue,but when do you chose an argument to suit your viewpoint:remember the tale"birds of prey will only eat enough to survive in a natural balance,if they kill all their food items they won't survive themselves",so tales of mass destruction(maybe I should chose another term)seem highly unlikely. Like another post said it is more to do with which side of the political fence you sit on:eagle owl or hen harrier(does their have to be a choice?)as to which argument you chose. I would certainly be very careful about extreme prejudice against what could be a wild bird-where do you stop(e.g. shoot all magpies for killing nestlings?or is that another myth from guilty parties grubbing out all the hedges) White man speaks with forked tongue far too often and without absolute proof don't believe anything,and take a moderate approach.
   Bruce Kerr, 11/06/10 18:06Report inappropriate post Report 
In response to posts #35 and #36 perhaps we should introduce a 'driven to extinction' award (species by species basis - highlighting who is doing what) that is awarded to categories of landowners, after all there should be Golden Eagles breeding in England too... Sorry to say but it appears to me that the RSPB is fiddling while Rome burns on this issue.
   Michael Cox, 11/06/10 18:16Report inappropriate post Report 
Michael, Is there really that much suitable habitat in England for Golden Eagles? The reason there is no longer a breeding pair in England i dont think has anything to do illegal persecution and I'm not aware of that ever really being a problem with Eagles in England. As for what Steve said about birds being confined to small pockets of suitable land its worth remembering that if it wasnt for shooting even these suitable pockets would be far less numerous and we'd be in an even worse situation, yes of course its wrong what some keepers and land owners are doing but take away the shooting interests and you lose the habitat so no Hen Harriers anyway.
   Adam Williams, 11/06/10 22:08Report inappropriate post Report 
Adam the £millions pumped into the uplands by the tax payer has created most of this habitat and yes most Golden Eagles in England were killed by Red Grouse moor owners. The problem with Golden Eagle at the moment is that no new birds are coming down from Scotland due to this killing there. Remember the main habitat for Hen Harriers was new forestry plantations not Red Grouse moors and with this government doing nothing to tackle carbon by using the 4% new forestry proposed by FC we are left with these mono culture habitats for them.
   john miles, 12/06/10 08:47Report inappropriate post Report 
If the British population of Eagle Owls is derived from escapes then a cull will only be a temporary solution as more will escape next year and the year after. To addres this seriously we must BAN ownership of Eagle Owls NOW and make it ILLEGAL - then they can't escape.
   Hugh Pugh, 12/06/10 14:20Report inappropriate post Report 
Great idea Hugh!! And as it is shooting estates that are killing Hen Harriers so lets BAN them at the same time and make it ILLEGAL - then they can not kill Birds of Prey.
   john miles, 12/06/10 15:29Report inappropriate post Report 
John, I think you'll find that Moorland habitat is created and most ceratainly maintained by the millions pumped in by Grouse Shooters and If you think banning that is the answer then you are sadly mistaken. I'm sure killing Eagles in Scotland is a problem but there's still more than enough that if there was suitable habitat in England and they would normally spread here at least a few still would,which to my knowledge they arent.
   Adam Williams, 12/06/10 16:46Report inappropriate post Report 
This theme is trotted out perpetually in Britain..."Grouse shooters shoot birds of prey but we accept that cos the grouse shooters maintain moorland habitat". Why can't we enter the 21st century? Grouse shooters can maintain moorland for shooting AND not persecute harriers and other birds of prey. It's only an irrational disliking of anything with a hooked beak that drives shooting raptors - there's space for a BALANCED ecosystem which has both grouse and harriers.
   Hugh Pugh, 12/06/10 16:59Report inappropriate post Report 
Couldnt agree more Hugh, of course we Grouse shooters can maintain moorland and not kill raptors and thats what we should be trying to work together to do not ban shooting because they kill raptors.
   Adam Williams, 12/06/10 17:12Report inappropriate post Report 
Well said, Adam Williams! What we need to get the PR machine running where we have a grouse moor where the managers are AS PLEASED to be encouraging and protecting Hen Harriers breeding on the moor as they are the grouse. A healthy moorland should be able to support both raptors and grouse quite happily .
   Hugh Pugh, 12/06/10 17:29Report inappropriate post Report 
The money you are talking about is tax payers money. The fact shooting estates spend it does not make it theirs. It is placed against tax. If it was their money it would be hard to complain. What is needed is a better tax system where these estates can not use money on Red Grouse management at the cost of 1000s of Birds of Prey a year and many other species including Black Grouse. The world Red grouse expert claims that 65% of Red Grouse moors are not viable so why are they still wasting tax payers money on killing wildlife. Not one Red Grouse moor owner tells his keepers to protect Birds of Prey in this country. Small bags and Birds of Prey are worth more than big bags and mono culture. I should know as I ran a Grouse moor until I was removed.
   john miles, 12/06/10 19:31Report inappropriate post Report 
Unlikely but.... I wouldn't put it past a gamekeeper, knowing of the CCTV presence, to get a falconer friend to remove the jesses from a tame eagle owl and set it on the goshawk....
   Mike, 12/06/10 23:22Report inappropriate post Report 
New pictures of the dead young eagle owls http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/
   john miles, 13/06/10 10:13Report inappropriate post Report 

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