Northern Harrier: Large hawk with gray upperparts, distinct white rump, and white underparts with spotted breast. Hooked bill is dark, yellow at base. Eyes are yellow. Wings are long, gray above, and white below with black tips. Legs, feet are yellow. Alternates several deep wing beats with glides.
Range and Habitat
Northern Harrier: Breeds from Alaska to the northern U.S. Spends winters from the southern U.S. to Central America. Preferred habitats include open fields, savannas, meadows, and marshes.
The Northern Harrier has a large range, estimated globally at 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 square kilometers. Native to Europe, Asia, and the Americas and introduced to parts of Africa and Bermuda, this bird prefers grassland, wetland, forest, and shrubland ecosystems. The global population of this bird is estimated at 1,300,000 individuals and does not show signs of decline that would necessitate inclusion on the IUCN Red List. For this reason, the current evaluation status of the Northern Harrier is Least Concern.
The common name, Harrier, is from the Old English word “herigan” and means to harass or plunder.
Their species name, Circus cyanus, comes from the Greek word “kirkos”, meaning circle and the word “cyan” which is a shade of blue. These refer to the Northern Harrier’s flight pattern while hunting and the color of the male bird.
Unusual among hawks, Northern Harriers use their sense of hearing to help locate prey. They have an owl-like facial disk to help with directional hearing and soft feathers for a quieter flight.
A group of harriers has many collective nouns, including a "swarm" and a "harassment" of harriers.