High hopes for fearless chicken porters

The Snowdonia-born bird named Bomber defied expectations by flying nearly 1000 miles from Wales to Spain twice.

  • Scientists at the RSPB made the discovery thanks to cutting-edge satellite tagging technology
  • It is hoped that bombers will return to Wales to nest there in the coming months

A chicken carrier named Bomber defied expectations by completing a journey of nearly 1,000 miles from north Wales to northern Spain, where she has spent the past two winters.

The young woman who hatched in the Migneint in Snowdonia in 2019 was already equipped with a satellite tracking device in the nest. This has allowed RSPB scientists to follow her incredible journey that took her across the English Channel to the Navarre region of northern Spain in 2019, where she spent her first winter.

Bomber flew into Wales the following spring and settled in an area of ​​the Carneddau Range about 25 miles from where it hatched. Not all chicken porters breed in their first year, however Bomber has teamed up with an adult male, but unfortunately none of their chicks survived.

Hen Harrier, Copyright Andy Adcock, from the Surfbirds Galleries

While most female chicken carriers stay close to their homes their entire lives, this globetrotter was on the move again on November 3, 2020 and was back in her winter area on November 18. She had covered over 1,000 miles in just over two weeks.

Chicken carriers are rare, protected birds of prey that breed in the highland areas of the UK. Males are gray with black wing tips and females are brown and cream speckled. During their breeding season, the males perform impressive acrobatic maneuvers known as “parachuting”.

Their population has declined over the past few decades mainly due to human persecution. A 2016 survey found 35 territorial pairs were found in Wales, a 39% decrease since 2010.

Niall Owen, assistant investigative officer at the RSPB, said:

“At first we believed that most of our tagged chicken carriers stayed in the highlands of the UK all year round. However, it has become clear that around 10% of birds cross the English Channel in winter, often towards France or Spain. None of our marked RSPB birds that have traveled to Spain have made it back to the UK until recently.

“The story of Bomber is even more notable because most female chicken porters tend not to wander far from where they hatched. It is incredible how these birds find their way back to the exact same place, almost 1000 miles away, with such precision. How exactly they do it remains a mystery. “

The RSPB hopes bombers will return to Wales and nest again in the coming months, sending a new intrepid generation into the world.

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