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29 Aug 2023

Birds of prey breeding success

Written by Paul Williams
A close up of a perched brown hen harrier chick, with little patches of downy white feathers still visible along its head and wing.
One of the 32 hen harrier chicks to fledge at Mar Lodge Estate this breeding season
The team at Mar Lodge Estate is celebrating a successful breeding season this year with a record number of birds of prey chicks documented at the National Nature Reserve.

Mar Lodge Estate recorded 32 hen harrier chicks this year, making it the site’s most productive year to date after the species colonised the area in 2016. Since then, the number of breeding pairs has grown year on year reaching a high of 11 pairs in 2023, with eight of these breeding successfully to produce the bumper number of chicks.

In addition to the positive news of the hen harriers, it was also a fruitful second year for the pair of white-tailed eagles that set up home at Mar Lodge last year. After producing one chick, Mar’verick in 2022, this year they changed the location of their nesting site on the estate and produced two chicks that have now fledged successfully.

Hen harrier chicks
Two brown and black hen harrier chicks, and one very young downy grey chick, nestled on the ground with their beaks open.

Shaila Rao, Conservation Manager at Mar Lodge Estate, said: ‘We’re thrilled at the news that the birds of prey which choose to call Mar Lodge home have had such a great breeding year. This amazingly productive season is likely to be a result of a vole population peak that is providing an abundant food supply for hen harriers and other birds of prey which live on the estate.

‘We have worked in partnership with the RSPB to satellite-tag four female chicks to allow us to learn more about hen harrier ecology and it will be great to see where these birds head off to once they have fledged. We were delighted to hear that two female harriers that were tagged on the estate last year as chicks, bred successfully for the first time elsewhere in Scotland.

‘With the bountiful food supply on offer, it’s no coincidence that this year we had many more sightings than normal of the ethereal short-eared owl, and we were lucky enough to be able to confirm this breeding success after finding some short-eared owl chicks nestled in the heather.

‘To top it all off, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, tawny owl, merlin along with buzzards have also fared well this year with successful breeding confirmed for all these species. Ospreys have not bred at Mar Lodge for some time, so we’re especially excited at the tantalising reports of numerous sightings of ospreys and we’re optimistic that this may be a precursor to a pair setting up home on the estate in future.

‘It is fantastic to have this spectacular species as an addition to the variety of breeding birds of prey soaring the skies at Mar Lodge. It’s thanks to the amazing generosity of our members and supporters that we’re able to look after this special place, to preserve its important wildlife and nature for future generations to enjoy. This support allows our team to continue their vital work to monitor the different species on the estate, to understand more about them, and track potential threats to the bird populations from the climate crisis for example.’

“It’s been a busy and exciting year for raptors at Mar Lodge and we look forward to what 2024 will bring.”
Shaila Rao
Conservation Manager, Mar Lodge Estate
A woman is standing next to some dwarf birch trees on a mountainside, under a blue sky with some clouds.

The work carried out at Mar Lodge Estate supports our mission to provide access to nature, beauty and heritage for everyone, as well as our conservation goals to enrich Scotland’s protected heritage and enable nature to flourish.

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