Photo by Bill Harris

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Fun Fact

Northern Harriers have an amazing sense of hearing with a feathered disk around their face to help pick up sound, similar to those found on owls.

Etymology

Circus comes from the Greek kirkos, which means "circle" from it's habit of flying in circles. Cyaneus is from the Greek word kyaneous, "dark blue," for the color of the adult males back.

Conservation Status

Least Concern IUCN

Identification

This is a medium sized hawk with a long tail, white rump patch, yellow eyes and a facial disk. The Northern Harrier is one of the few raptors that varies in appearence between sexes. The male has a light gray back with a white underside while the female comes in a variety of browns with a darker brown back and a tan and white streaked belly.

Length

46-50cm (18.1-19.7in)

Wingspan

1-1.2 m (3.3- 3.9 ft)

Weight

0.3 -0.75 kg (0.6 - 1.7 lb)

A female Northern Harrier in flight.

Photo courtesy of Dan Pancam on Flikr

Distribution

Northern Harriers are holarctic birds found in North America, Europe and Asia. They leave Northern breeding grounds between August and October and return between March and May. (Range map below)

Habitat

These raptors prefer open country such as prairies, grasslands, and wetlands. Wetlands are considered essential for nesting. Found from sea level to 9,000 feet and nests below 5,000 feet.

Prey

Harrier diets consists mainly of small mammals, reptiles and amphibians but males will take small birds including songbirds, young ducks, gamebirds and waders. When hunting waterfowl, Norther Harriers will sometimes drown their prey.

Behavior

Often solitary even during migration but will have communal winter roosts. Hunts by flying low over open habitats while using their acute hearing. Male Northern Harriers often have several mates during the breeding season.

Female Northern Harrier showing white facial disc demarcation.

Photo courtesy of tbtalbottjr on Flikr.

Breeding

Typical breeding season lasts from April through August/September. A ground nester that typically makes a platform-like nest from vegetation in an open filed or marshy area with thick vegetation. Typically lays 4-6 eggs on average with incubation lasting 29-31 days and chicks fledging at 29-42 days.

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Citation

InforNatura: Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America [web application]. 2007. Version 5.0 . Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: October 24, 2012 ).

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