Sunday, December 11, 2016

Harrier News

There’s recent news (November 2016) of the ongoing debate around the similarities and differences between the European Hen Harrier and the North American Harrier. Scientists have confirmed that the Eurasian Hen Harrier and the American Northern Harrier are in fact two distinct species. 

The study, published as the cover article in BioMed Central's Avian Research, led by the Earlham Institute and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, explores the phylogenetic relationship between two forms of Harriers (Circus cyaneus); the Eurasian Hen Harrier (C. c. cyaneus) and the American Northern Harrier (C. c. hudsonius) to distinguish their ancestry and evolution. Already accepted as different species by the British Ornithologists' Union, the American Ornithologists' Union and other avian taxonomic committees are yet to classify the bird of prey as separate species. 

American Northern Harrier - Shravans14, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wiki.

Hen Harrier - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland)

As the most intensely persecuted bird of prey in the UK, Hen Harriers are under particular threat from being caught up in the crossfire of grouse hunts in upland moors where they feed on Red Grouse. After the number of breeding birds increased after the Second World War, the bird of prey is in trouble again. Ongoing illegal hunting and habitat disruption is forcing the species to edge of extinction in England. To understand the Hen Harrier species' genetic make-up is of extreme importance to its future and will help aid the national conservation efforts such as the RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE project. 

Lead-author and conservation genomics expert Dr Graham Etherington in the Di Palma Group at EI, said: "Molecular phylogenetics was applied to the Hen Harriers and the Northern Harriers to see if genetics could shed some light on whether the accepted morphological nuances between the species indeed represent a genuine distinction. From a conservation point, the work shows the European Hen Harrier is not the same as the American Northern Harrier and should receive appropriate recognition and protection. 

“Before the advent of sequencing technology, species were categorised by shared and divergent morphological features. However, new technology allows us to quantify the amount of genetic change between populations and identify divergent lineages." 

In his research, Dr Etherington collected tissue samples from museums around the world. Using both DNA sequencing and morphology, along with differences in plumage, breeding biology, vocalisation, habitat, distribution, dispersal and migration it was possible to show the differences between the two species. 

"These genetic indicators distinguish the Hen Harrier and its close relative the Northern Harrier, genetically as well as morphologically, suggesting geographical isolation is enough to form two distinct lineages," added Dr Etherington. 

Further evidence from another study which provided additional data for Dr Etherington's paper also found that Northern Harrier was, in fact, more closely related to the Cinereous Harrier of South America than the Hen Harrier of Eurasia providing further evidence that the forms represent two distinct species. 

Earlham Institute. "Genomics reveals Hen Harrier is two distinct species." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 November 2016.

Apologies for the lack of local news and views on Another Bird Blog this week. The weather has been most unkind with lots of rain, endless grey days and a lack of sunshine.  Things can only get better.

Linking today to World Bird Wednesday.



eileeninmd said...

Hello, interesting post and info on the Harriers. It is upsetting to hear the Hen Harrier are threatened. I was happy to see the US Northern Harrier here in Florida. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week ahead!

Linda said...

I hate to hear that any creature is threatened, Phil. Your photos are great, and I love birds and never tire of them, and such a joy to see them in flight, too!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

There is a young boy who posts about the quest to save these hawks ..I visited his blog after he commented on my feeble bird post once (and linked to Stewart's meme).... so I knew something about this, it was and is surprising to me because I think about your country being very bird friendly. I am afraid with the political horror that's going on on this side of the pond more and more species will be fIghting for existence. Sigh.

Stuart Price said...

So what about the ones in East Asia?!?!

NC Sue said...

I love watching hawks - such gorgeous, regal birds.
Thanks for linking up at

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

As always your post was informative and interesting.

Joe Todd said...

Thanks for the post. On my most recent hike I saw an eagle but wasn't able to get a photo

David Gascoigne said...

Too bad that game wardens are not an endangered species! It's interesting g that you and I had this same discussion a couple of posts ago.

carol l mckenna said...

Awesome photography and fascinating and informative post ~ thanks,

Wishing you peace in your week ~ ^_^

Fun60 said...

So interesting to hear about these new discoveries and what this might mean for future conservation of species.

Mary Cromer said...

Always very sad for me to learn that these beautiful Harriers are threatened still. When we have traveled to our Western USA and I have spotted them, I am ecstatic, for their beauty alone is magnificent. There is room on this vast land to have them and the Grouse hunters...and if they can't get enough of what they desire send them to the market for other fresh meat...sorry, it just gets to me~

Kay L. Davies said...

Sorry you've been having bad weather, Phil, now that I know how beautiful your part of England can be. Please give Sue a hug from me, and of course have her give you one in return.
Kay Davies
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

June Caedmon said...

I hope better birding weather returns soon, Phil!

Lowcarb team member said...

Yes, the weather of late has not been too good has it.
But you always manage to give us some good photo's and information Phil, so thank you.

All the best Jan

Related Posts with Thumbnails