Britain's rarest raptor under threat of extinction

Hen harrier, the iconic bird of prey known for its majestic sky-dancing ritual suffers huge decline in population.

London: Hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England after the number of breeding pairs fell to four last year, according to worrying new figures.

Known for its majestic sky-dancing ritual, is under severe threat of extinction in the UK due to the illegal killing of the species, new study warns.

The hen harrier population has suffered a decline of 88 pairs (13 per cent) over the past six years with a total UK population estimated to be 545 pairs, according to a survey conducted by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK.

The numbers are declining everywhere in the UK, with just four breeding pairs left in England and numbers falling from 505 to 460 in Scotland, 46 to 59 in Northern Ireland and 57 to 35 in Wales.

The reasons for the population changes are likely to be a combination of factors. Previous research has highlighted the main factor for limiting population as illegal killing of these birds associated with driven grouse moor management in northern England and parts of mainland Scotland.

Other pressures such as cold and wet weather conditions over a number of breeding seasons, changes in habitat management and low prey abundance could have all had an impact on numbers throughout the UK.

"The illegal killing of this bird of prey is a significant factor behind the diminishing numbers and a large barrier stopping their recovery," he added.

The birds of prey live primarily on heather moorland. The males are easily identified by their black wing tips. While the females look completely different, with puffy brown plumage that helps camouflage them and their nests.

( Source : AP )
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