Investigation into shooting of rare hen harrier in Ireland

A rare bird of prey, which had become a ‘satellite star’ to thousands of trackers, has been shot down and killed in Ireland. It was hoped that the young female hen harrier had returned to Kerry to hatch but there was major disappointment when she was found dead in the Waterville area.

A hen harrier in flight

A hen harrier in flight. Image by Ron Knight / CC BY 2.0

Local police (Gardai) are investigating the incident as hen harriers are a protected Irish species, with fines or imprisonment facing those who kill such birds, the Irish Times reports.

‘Heather’ - the name wildlife officials had given her - was part of a tracking project which was jointly run by a local community, IRD Duhallow, and the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Having been located and tagged in Kerry after being hatched in 2013, her activity was keenly followed by thousands of enthusiasts as part of an online blog.

The Irish Independent reports that the website has received over a quarter of a million hits since its launch.

Dr Barry Donoghue of NPWS explained that the bird had been spotted in Wicklow and four other counties before making the long journey south to Cork.

He pointed out that by wintering with several other harriers there, Heather would have learned how to hunt and where to stay in safe areas at night. She had then gone back to her native area of Kerry late last year.

Dr Donoghue said she had probably done so with the intention of breeding “but unfortunately her life has been cut short,” the official said.

It is estimated that there are only 100 pairs of the birds remaining in the country with the population having seriously declined over the past four decades.

A number of white-tailed sea eagles, The Sunday Times reports, which are another rare species of bird, have been poisoned in the same region.

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