Somerset Ornithological Society - Bird News
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Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

On 4/11/12 a Juvenile Marsh Harrier turned up at Greylake with what looked like obvious shotgun damage to it's left primaries. This bird was also seen at other sites on the Levels over the next few months by other birders.
On Saturday the same bird was back at Greylake this time with a dangling right leg and possible damage to the right wing. The bird has been seen at Ham Wall
this morning by Joe Cockram looking "a right state". I've posted some pictures
of the bird on the SOS facebook page and Joe is putting them up on his website.
Is someone shooting at raptors on the levels? If so who?

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

I have uploaded the images to my website along with some background information on raptor persecution and what you should do if you see a bird that you suspect may have been shot:

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

The injured marsh harrier, known to me as 'tatty wing', was seen about a week ago with the same leg injury, so it seems to be surviving against the odds!

Whilst there is no evidence that this bird was one of last year's juveniles I have been aware for many years of 'anti raptor' sentiment in this local community and have always cautioned against the conservation organisations, and others, advertising the presence of these birds, particularly their breeding sites!

Unfortunately, one only has to look at the parlous state of the hen harrier population in parts of this country to realise that it is very difficult to stop
this type of persecution, but awareness should serve to make people more circumspect about careless talk!

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

Dear Steve, Joe and Sandra,

Thanks for your postings and for uploading the six images.

It's unclear whether or not we can be 100% certain that this is the same individual that was seen some months ago. It's hard to be sure from the photos but the plumage colouration looks fairly typical (if there is such a thing).

The damage to this Harrier could have been caused by shooting but it seems perhaps a little unlikely that the shot pattern would have taken out both wingtips and a leg and not brought down the bird. Or, if it is the same bird, that it was shot at and winged a second time.

Legs, feet and talons are the main weapons of most raptor species so it's perhaps not surprising that injuries to these appendages are not particularly uncommon.

In most cases, this probably leads to a fairly rapid demise through starvation, but I've observed individuals of a few species including Peregrine and Common Buzzard that have survived and bred successfully for many years with a dangling and obviously useless leg.

Marsh Harriers often hunt by dropping vertically into vegetation and grabbing their prey. There are a myriad of potential hazards to be found in such locations, many of which are materials discarded by humans, eg. wire, twine, etc.

If a raptor does get a leg snagged on something it's highly likely to damage and even snap off wing feathers, particularly primaries, in its frantic efforts to escape.

So whilst shooting is indeed a possibility in this case, I think the leg injury and feather damage could also be due to an alternative, perhaps less sinister, explanation.

It will be interesting to see if it is observed in the area over the coming days and weeks.

Best regards,


Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake


The bird was on Meare Heath this afternoon, it appeared to be flying normally and at one point dropped onto something in the reeds, and didn't emerge for about an hour, suggesting perhaps it might have caught prey with it's one good leg (although I acknowledge it could have been doing anything during the hour it was out of sight, rather than feeding!)

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

Hi Nick

It's true we can't be 100% sure that this is the same bird as on the 4th November, but since then I've observed a juv. Marsh Harrier at Greylake on 6 occasions with the 3rd primary missing from the left wing. I thought it more likely this was the same individual rather than 6 different birds with the same injury.
But let's assume they are different birds. The bird from 4/11/12, at that time, still had it's left 3rd primary. The shaft was attached to it's wing (and may be still ), but was partially cut and the rest of the feather was fluttering on the upper surface of the wing as it flew. The upper primary coverts were raggy and bent upwards. I'm sure anyone observing the bird with me (who was experienced in observing birds with shotgun damage) would agree that it did look like a shotgun injury.
The bird on Saturday had the 3rd primary missing from it's left wing, possible damage to it's inner primaries on the right wing and an injury to it's right leg. You think it unlikely this pattern of injuries would occur in a bird without bringing it down, however I've seen many birds with similar injuries still flying, for example a Marsh Harrier with much more extensive damage to it's wings, a dangling leg and no tail flying over the Airport in Malta last September. Dangling legs, as you say, are a common on injury in raptors, and a very common injury on shot raptors, the only way to prove or disprove the cause is using x-rays.
At the top of this page I asked the question, Is someone shooting at raptors on the levels? I hope not but I have my suspicions which is why I started this thread. There are no certainties when observing wildlife, I can’t be 100% certain whether I’ve seen a bird 6 times or 6 identical birds any more than you can know what causes the leg injuries in Peregrines and Buzzards that you see. Raptor persecution isn’t confined to Grouse Moors in Scotland and Northern England, it occurs all over the UK and those of us who watch birds on the Levels or anywhere else should be mindful of this fact.
PS If anyone sees any injured raptors try and get photos or footage. If you witness anyone shooting at protected birds inform the Police and report it to the RSPB using the form below.

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the additional information.

Please re-read my previous posting and you'll see that I never suggested that your earlier repeated sightings were not the same bird - I have no way of knowing one way or the other.

However, what I did ask was could we be 100% certain that this latest Marsh Harrier with feather injuries to both wings was the same bird as had been seen last year.

The photos posted on Joe's website show a Marsh Harrier with the 3rd primary of its left wing present and apparently in perfect condition. Moreover, more than one outer primary feather seems to be missing from its left wing.

So the new details you've provided about the original damaged Harrier appears to confirm that my suspicions were well founded and that this recently photographed bird is a different individual to the one you observed last year.

Best regards and good birding.


Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

Hi Nick

I stand corrected, the primaries in front of the gap are 2 and 3 not 1 and 2 as I thought. 1 not visible in the photo. But call me a cynic if you will, I'm now concerned there are 2 birds with shotgun damage not 1.



Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

Dear Steve et al,

Yesterday, and the day before, I observed an immature Marsh Harrier on the Avalon Marshes with a dangling outstretched right leg and missing primaries from both wings. It seems highly likely that this is the same bird that you photographed at Greylake some ten days ago.

The positive news is that despite its leg injury and the missing wing feathers, I saw the Harrier actively hunting and also neatly and skilfully evade some repeated bombing attacks by two Hobbies by flipping over in two successive barrel rolls! It seems to be surviving well, at least for the moment.

On the basis of the current evidence, it's impossible to assign the reason behind its injuries to either human persecution (eg. it being shot) or natural causes (eg. snagging its leg). However, having now seen the bird (presuming it's the same one of course) it didn't really look to me like the effects of shot.

Birds that suffer this fate often exhibit feather shafts that are smashed or severed anywhere along their length (exactly as in your description of the feather damage to the Harrier you saw at Greylake in November 2011), whereas the missing or damaged feathers from this particular Harrier all appear to be absent from the point at which they were attached to the wing (ie. at the base).

I wish to publicly applaud and support your (and others') efforts to alert readers to the risk of raptor persecution, and to provide guidance on what to do if one encounters it. Birdwatchers are uniquely placed to become aware of such activities and I too would urge anyone who does, to report it immediately. And if for some reason they wish to remain anonymous, please remember the free Crimestoppers Helpline on 0800 555 111.

One other point. Even if the bird has suffered being shot, we should remember that this species is migratory. This means that it could easily have travelled through some 5 - 10 other countries on its way back to Britain.

I've personally witnessed indiscriminate shooting of protected birds in several other countries, including some of those between here and West Africa, and believe that such injuries are just as likely, if not more so, to be suffered outside of Britain.

It would be interesting for us to utilise this MessageBoard and the birdwatchers who use it to monitor the activities of this rather distinctive Marsh Harrier.

Accordingly, I would urge anyone who believes that they've seen the bird to refer to your photographs published on Joe's website ( - scroll down to the entry on 14 May 2013) and, if appropriate, to post the observation on here.

Best regards and good birding to all,


PS. If Sandra Padfield reads this post please could I ask her to send me a private email. I've been trying to make contact for some time but don't have an email address. Thanks. NPW.

Re: Injured Marsh Harrier @ Greylake

The Marsh Harrier in question was thermalling high over Ham Wall at approx 5pm this evening.