Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Details About The Northern Harrier

  • General Information

    The Northern Harrier has an owl-like facial disk, long wings and tail, and a white rump patch. Its dark head appears hooded. The wing tips do not reach the tip of the tail. Sexes have different color plumages. Males are gray with black wing tips; females are brown with a streaked breast. Immature harriers look like females, with a rusty breast. Adult male harriers have bright lemon yellow eyes; adult female's eyes are amber to pale yellow (by 5th year). The immature male has grayish brown eyes; an immature female's eyes are chocolate brown.

    Latin Name: Circus cyaneus
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Accipitridae
    Length: 16-20 inches
    Weight: 10-21 ounces
    Wingspan: 38-48 inches
    Common Name: Blue Hawk (male), Cinereous Harrier, Frog Hawk, Hen Harrier, Marsh Hawk
    Etymology: kirko (Greek) - "circle," from the bird's habit of flying in circles; kyaneous - (Greek) - "dark blue," male's back color

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    Harriers often use slow quartering flight, in a strong dihedral (V-shape). Courtship flights include steep climbs, dives, and series of loops with the bird upside down at top of loop. They can hover since they have low wing loading (large wing surface vs. body weight).

    Distress call is a Kek or Ke, high pitched and uttered in rapid succession. Food call by females is a piercing, descending scream - eeyah eeyah - that may be repeated for minutes in presence of mate in an apparent effort to induce food transfers.

    The Norther Harrier prefers medium to tall prairie grass, wetlands, marshes, logged or burned wood lots, tundra. Northern Harriers will usually perch on the ground, but will use fence posts, or other low perches. In winter, they use communal ground roosts, sometimes found with Short-eared Owls.

  • Nesting

    Northern Harriers are ground nesters and build within patches of dense, often tall, vegetation in undisturbed areas. They are polygamous - one male will mate with up to five females, depending on prey availability. The mean clutch size is 4.4, and incubation lasts 30-32 days. Chicks will wander after 15-20 days, possibly to avoid predation. They breed at the age of two, sometimes three, years.

  • Distribution

    The Northern Harrier is the sole North American species from a worldwide cosmopolitan genus of 10 species. They are fairly common throughout North America. Northern populations are migratory, spending winters in southern United States.

  • Food

    Northern Harriers feed on rodents, birds, reptiles, and frogs. Males will take more birds; females will take more mammals. Northern harriers have reportedly drowned waterfowl.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    The Northern Harrier can be polygynous, which means that a single male may mate with two or more females in one breeding season. The most ever recorded was 7. Hmmm. Well then...

    England's famous force of Harrier jump-jets, controversially disposed of in 2010 along with the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, have been reprieved: the radical vectored-thrust jets, believed by many to have been the best strike planes in Britain's arsenal, will fly (and almost certainly, fight) again.