A Frodsham Harrier by Greg Baker

How to separate female/young male ringtail Hen Harrier? By Greg Baker

On Tuesday 26th February, I finally managed to get some decent views of the ringtail Hen Harrier hunting over the western sections of No.6 Tank. I had seen from earlier postings that it was presumed to be a female but I was unsure of this identification based on my views and mentioned this in an email to Bill. He suggested I look at the excellent photographs taken by Stuart Maddocks on the 6th February, which I have now done and subsequently believe this individual is a juvenile or first winter male rather than a female.


In the notes below references to ‘Photo A’ relate to Stuart’s photograph of the harrier from below and ‘Photo B’ to the photograph which shows much of the upperparts.
06.02.13. Hen Harrier, Frodsham Marsh. Stuart Maddocks
Firstly, its worth confirming it’s identity as a Hen Harrier based on the obvious five primary “fingers” and P10 being pretty much the same length as P5 in B. The yellow eye and streaked underparts extending onto the undertail coverts (shown well in Photo A) would suggest an adult female, however there are some other features which suggest otherwise. Whilst the underparts streaking is more extensive than on a typical juvenile, it is more obvious on the breast, the streaks are much less broad towards the rear and also the base colour of the underparts appears more buff-brown rather than the white which would be expected on a female. On Photo A there seems to be a lot of contrast between the arm and the hand on the underwing and the underwing coverts appear to have buff tips. The greater coverts appear generally uniform rather than barred and on Photo B also show a line of pale tips. The head pattern seems fairly distinct on Photo A, with a well-defined supercilium. Also on Photo A, one of the outer tail feathers shows a broad dark bar. All of these features suggest a juvenile or first winter rather than an adult female. Finally the yellow eye and not very distinct head pattern would suggest a young male.
06.02.13. Hen Harrier. frodsham Marsh. Stuart Maddocks
06.02.13. Hen Harrier. frodsham Marsh. Stuart Maddocks (2)
If anyone has any alternative or other views on this birds age/sex they would be much appreciated.
Greg Baker.
All images by Stuart Maddocks.
A useful source for wing topography is available from http://www.lbjs.co.za/pdf/Topography.pdf .
Additionally two Marsh Harriers present at Frodsham are a 2nd summer male (resembling a female) and an adult male. Eds