Northern Harrier

The Northern Harrier is like a Stealth Bomber; its soft feathers make it deadly and silent. It comes in low and slow and doesn’t scream at its prey, rather glides around its feeding area and takes small prey by surprise. According to Cornell University, it may also hunt rabbits and ducks, killing its prey by drowning. Northern Harrier|Los Banos Wildlife Refuge|Los Banos, CA


The Northern Harrier is a slender hawk with a distinctive white patch on his rump and a small owl-like face. The male is light gray, with a darker gray head. It has light under parts; its wings are long, narrow and rounded with black wing tips. The Harrier’s tail is banded with light and dark bars. It has yellow eyes and a black hooked bill with yellow at the base. The female harrier is larger than the male and is mostly brown with streaks of brown and white below. An immature Harrier looks like the female but its under parts are a rusty color and it has a dark head.

Range and Habitat

It is the only Harrier in North America. It is found in marshlands and open fields in United States including Alaska, Canada and Eurasia.


The Northern Harrier hunts by flying low to the ground (about 3-30 feet above the ground), with its wings held in a slight V-shape. It tilts back and forth as it flies, swooping, turning and flying with aerobatic ease, looking and listening for prey. Its wings are held just above level like a Turkey Vulture. The Northern Harrier uses its hearing as well as its sight when hunting. The stiff disc-like feathers on its face amplify sound similar to an owl which is very useful in areas with a lot of vegetation. The female usually hunts in one area but the male can fly over 100 miles in one day. You may also find the harrier on low fence posts or on the ground. The Harrier’s diet mainly consists of small mammals, mice and birds and turtles. In the winter, the Harrier will gather in communities, often with Merlins or short-eared owls.

Breeding and Nesting

The Northern Harrier male is quite the ladies man! He may mate with one or more females in a season (sometimes up to 5 females), During courting, he puts on a high flying display for the female, swooping down and giving a rapid chatter or a gull-like whine. The nest consists of a platform of sticks and grass on the ground and is built by both the male and female. The female lay 3-9 eggs and will incubate her eggs while the male provides food for all of his mates and offspring.

Northern Harrier Photo Gallery