Determining the cause of the hen harrier decline on the Orkney Islands: an experimental test of two hypotheses.
A supplementary feeding and predator removal experiment was conducted on the hen harrier population on West Mainland, Orkney, to test whether increased predation pressure or shortage of food was responsible for the poor breeding success and potentially the decline of this population. Although numbers of crows appeared to have increased since 1983, the removal of hooded crows from breeding territories of male harriers had no detectable effect on any of the breeding parameters measured. The provision of supplementary food to male harriers significantly increased their numbers of breeding females, but had no detectable effect on either lay date, clutch size or hatching success. Results suggest that the current low levels of polygyny are a consequence of a shortage of food during the pre-Iay period. Conservation management for this species should therefore be directed towards increasing the harriers' food supply, especially during the pre-lay period.