Thursday 22 June 2017

Rare bird and 'blog star' Heather the harrier shot dead

File photo of Heather the Hen harrier
File photo of Heather the Hen harrier

Jennifer McShane

A rare feathered hen harrier whose travels around Ireland were tracked and followed via a website has been shot dead .

The bird was found in Kerry last month. The female hen harrier, named Heather had been tagged with the satellite-tracking device shortly after she hatched in 2013 in east Kerry.  She quickly became a star, as her travels were followed by thousands of people on an online blog.

She was killed with a shotgun in the Waterville area. The cause of death was only established this week.

The rare bird of prey was fitted with a satellite tagged as part of a joint project involving the NPWS and IRD Dunhallow, a rural development group in Cork which set up the site: henharrierireland.blogspot.ie to track the bird’s movements. The site has received over 250,000 hits since its launch.

Dr. Barry O'Donoghue of the NPWS, who oversaw the satellite-tracking project, said:

“Through the satellite tracking programme, thousands of people were given an insight into the life of this bird and her progress was followed from Kerry to the Wicklow Mountains.

"The tracking system showed that the bird visited Meath, Louth, Monaghan and Armagh and rested by the shores of Lough Neagh, before making a long distance journey all the way to the Atlantic cliffs of South County Cork.”

“The bird stayed there for most of her first winter with a number of other harriers. From these older birds, she would have learned of good hunting places and safe places to spend each night. In late 2014 she returned to South Kerry, back to the very site where she was born.

“It seems likely that she might have returned to breed there this summer, but unfortunately her life has been cut short,” he added.

The Sunday Times reported that a number of white tailed sea eagles, another rare species of bird had also been poisoned in the same area.

The shooting is currently being investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) as it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to kill a hen harrier, as the birds are listed as a protected species.

Local Gardaí have been informed of the incident and are currently investigating.

By tagging Heather researchers hoped to learn more about the species to protect them, as there are only 100 pairs of the birds left Ireland

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