Circus cyaneus
(Northern Harrier)

Order: Falconiformes
Order Description: Vultures, Osprey, Hawks, Falcons
Family: Accipitridae
Family Description: Osprey, Hawks and Eagles

Physical Description:
18-22" (46-55 cm). Male: Gray above, white below. Black wing tips; white rump; brown spotting below; light edging on feathers above. Female: Brown above, buffClick word for definition below; heavy dark barring on breast; streaking on head and face. Long tail on both sexes.

Similar Species- Turkey Vulture; which also has a dihedral to its wings ("V"-shaped in flight). Swainson's Hawk; which has more pointed wings and a dihedral in their soar.

Nasal, "baby toy" squeak.

Breeds from Alaska, east to Quebec, and south to Baja California, southern Texas, southern Missouri, West Virginia, and southeastern Virginia. Winters from southern Canada to northern South America.

Found on marshes, meadows, grasslands, and cultivated fields. In Idaho, associated with deserts, marshes and irrigated agriculture; avoids forested areas.

Eats small mammals (especially voles and cotton rats), small and medium-size birds (especially passerines), and some reptiles, amphibians, large insects, and carrionClick word for definition.

Nests on ground. Perches on ground, or on stumps or posts. Hunts mostly in early morning and late afternoon in some areas, but may hunt throughout day. Usually flies low when hunting; captures prey on ground. In winter, throughout range, individuals may aggregate in communal roostsClick word for definition in areas of high prey density, and may hunt in same area for several consecutive days. Roosts in winter in undisturbed fields or marshes. In southwestern Idaho study, male and female home ranges were 15.7 km2 and 1.13 km2, respectively. Males hunted up to 9.5 km from nests for voles and whiptail lizards.

clutchClick word for definition size usually varies from 3-6 eggs. Female incubatesClick word for definition eggs for about 30-32 days; male brings food. Young fly at about 30-35 days, and usually breed at 2+ yr. Some males are polygynousClick word for definition. Number of breeders and clutchClick word for definition size may increase when prey is abundant.

Element Code: ABNKC11010
Status: Protected nongame species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5,NTMB
National Rank: N5B,N5N

Important State References:
Martin, J.W. 1987. Behavior and habitat use of breeding Northern Harriers in southwestern Idaho. J. Raptor Res. 21:57-66.

Photo by George Jameson, ©2002 and Jeff Spendelow,© 1999
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.