The Harrier and the Owl.

“Try and try again.” yeah that is the saying, in my case I have been trying, trying, trying, going all the way back to 2016. I have been trying to get an image of a Northern harrier; that I will be pleased with. Well, I am happy to say, it has happened, what a way to close out 2021.

Sub-adult male Norther harrier (Circus hudsonius)

The Northern harrier (Circus hudsonius) has several characteristics which distinguish them from other birds. Feathers around their face in the shape of a disk focus sound into their ears. Northern harriers have long wings, long and slender tails, and owl-like faces.

The species is lightly wing-loaded and often rocks in the wind like a Turkey Vulture while flying with its wings held in a dihedral or “V” above its back. Harriers have three distinct plumages: the largely light gray adult male, the largely light brown adult female, and the largely dark brown juvenile. In all three plumages, the species has a conspicuous white rump patch. Adult males, which are sometimes referred to as the “gray ghosts,” are mostly gray above and whitish below with black trailing edges on their underwings and black wingtips. Adult females are mostly brown above with buffy underparts that are heavily streaked with dark brown. Juveniles are mostly dark brown above with cinnamon breasts and bellies. Females are 10-20% larger and weigh approximately 50% more than males. 

The Northern harrier also occurs in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Across its range, the Northern harrier prefers open habitats, including marshes and grasslands. Harriers typically nest on the ground, either alone or in loose colonies. Outside of the breeding season, typically in winter harriers roost communally on the ground, sometimes with Short-eared Owls, which can make for some very interesting territorial displays disputes.

“Territorial dispute” Northern harrier (Circus hudsonius) and Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)

A ground nester, harriers build their nests in tall grass or in the cover of a bush or shrub. Greatly affected by the cycle of vole populations, harriers at times of vole irruptions (population increases) can be polygamous (a male having more than one mate). They change the location of their nest site from year to year.

  • Northern harriers are part of the family Accipitridae, which includes 224 species of hawks, eagles, vultures, harriers, and kites.
  • There are 13 species of harriers, worldwide.
  • The Northern harrier is the only harrier in North America.
  • Northern harriers have an owl-like facial disk that allows them to hunt by sound as well as by sight.
  • Northern Harriers hunt almost exclusively on the wing for small mammals and birds.
  • Northern Harriers are benificial to farmers because they eat rodents that can damage crops.
  • Male Northern Harriers often mate with two or more females in a single season.

Conservation status: Least concern. Northern harriers appear to be declining in North America is the loss of habitat, usually because it is converted into agricultural fields. ref source: https://peregrinefund.org/explore-raptors-species/hawks/northern-harrier

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