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Northern Harrier

Circus cyaneus ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES FAMILY: ACCIPITRIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Northern Harrier is distinctive from a long distance away: a slim, long-tailed hawk gliding low over a marsh or grassland, holding its wings in a V-shape and sporting a white patch at the base of its tail. Up close it has an owlish face that helps it hear mice and voles beneath the vegetation. Each gray-and-white male may mate with several females, which are larger and brown. These unusual raptors have a broad distribution across North America and Eurasia.

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Calls

Males and females both give a fast series of kek notes lasting 1–2 seconds during courtship displays. When threatened by nest predators or mobbed by small birds, they use higher-pitched kek notes. The female gives a piercing scream during the breeding season, prompting the male to either mate with her or bring food.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

In fall through spring, look for harriers in wide-open grasslands, marshes, or fields. You’re most likely to notice Northern Harriers when they are flying. Note the low, slow, coursing flight style, the bird’s V-shaped wing posture, and its white rump. During migration in the fall and spring, you can also see harriers high in the sky over mountain ridges and coastlines.