Northern Harrier

Hey guys welcome back. Today is a cool raptor, the norther harrier. Northern harriers kind of look like a cross between an owl and a hawk. They are hawks, in the same family as the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned we’ve covered in the past. But get a close look at their face and you’ll see a very owl-like feature; a distinct facial disk. While not quite as pronounced as owls, the northern harrier uses it’s superb hearing as well as excellent eye-sight when hunting, just like an owl does. This facial disk acts as a sort of radar dish, or funnel, helping to direct sound to its ears. This also gives them a very distinct look, making their ID quite easy.

Northern Harrier2
Somewhat obscured northern harrier, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Jamaica, NY

Males are sometimes referred to as the grey ghost, as they are a pale gray above, white below, with black wingtips. Juveniles and females are brown, as seen in the picture above. They are slightly smaller than a red-tailed hawk, and have a distinct white rump visible in flight. Like other accipitrids, they have a long tail, and long somewhat pointed wings. The northern harrier can be found in every part of the lower 48 states, mostly in fall and winter, before they fly up to Canada to breed. Look for them in large open grasslands and watch for them gliding very low, and almost impossibly slow above the grass looking for small mammals.

Northern harrier in flight, Sandy Ridge Reservation, North Ridgeville, OH

To date, I’ve only ever gotten one good look at a perched harrier. I had seen a number of them flyover Central Park in September (peak raptor migration in the NY area) but it wasn’t until a trip out to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge that I saw one perched. It landed, and I couldn’t believe it! I kept trying to get closer, or at least get a look that wasn’t obscured by branches, and it kept flying off. I must have followed it back and forth near the west pond behind the nature center at Jamaica Bay for 30 min before finally getting a decent look (and picture.) I’ve seen a number of them here in Ohio since moving back, but only flying and hunting. Hopefully I’ll have another close encounter sometime soon. Next up, we have another vireo. See you then!

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