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Northern Harrier

Kingdom: Animalia    Phylum: Chordata   Class: Aves (Birds)    Order: Falconiformes   Family: Accipitridae


Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), earlier known as Marsh Hawk, is a slender raptor, with long, narrow wings and long tail. The name "harrier" is derived from the archaic word "harry" meaning to plunder or sack, in reference to their aerial assault on prey. Partial to wetlands and open marshes, they often soar with their wings held in a shallow "U" called a dihedral. Fairly common among wetlands such as open, wet meadows, fields, sloughs and marshes, Northern Harriers generally perch low and fly close to the ground in search of prey. Except during migration and in courtship, they are seldom seen soaring high. Their buoyant flight is characterized by smooth, rowing wing beats.

Identification: These medium-sized (58 cm) raptors display a bright white band across the rump always obvious in all plumages. Like owls, these harriers have curved, sound-reflecting facial disks along both cheeks. Adult males are grayish above, with clean white underwings and bellies, and chestnut-spotted breasts. The wings of adult males are tipped in black. Larger and darker overall, adult females are brown above, heavily streaked in brown across the breasts and flanks, and spotted across the bellies. Juvenile birds resemble adult females but are cinnamon underneath and streaked in brown only on the breast.

Calls: The Northern Harrier gives two types of calls. A piercing, insistent and whistled "eeeya" or a high, thin "seeeew" are given primarily by females and young birds. Males cluck or bark a dry, staccato series of "chet,chet,chet" or "kekekekekekek" notes.

Nests: Northern Harriers nest on the ground, in slightly elevated areas of thick vegetation. The female constructs the flimsy nest of sticks and grasses, though the male provides a little assistance. Loosely lined with fine materials, the nest cradles the 4-8, 47 mm eggs of the clutch. The bluish white eggs are usually unmarked but are occasionally spotted in browns. While the female alone incubates the clutch for 30-31 days, the male assists in rearing the young. Young birds fledge in 30-35 days post-hatching. Harriers mature in 2 - 3 years, but may be able to breed their first year.

Food: This hawk eats small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, and carrion. Harriers hunt using a low, slow flight over the ground, then plunge onto their prey. During the breeding season, females aggressively exclude males from preferred feeding areas.


Anseriformes Apodiformes Bucerotiformes Caprimulgiformes Charadriiformes Ciconiiformes Columbiformes Coraciiformes Cuculiformes
 
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