A Field Guide to the Prairie

Northern harrier
Photo: Minnesota Ornithological Union
Northern Harrier
Circus cyanues
Size: 60 cm (24 inches)
Habitat/Range: The Northern Harrier breeds from Alaska through Canada and the northern half of the United States. Winters from the middle U.S. into Mexico. The Northern Harrier is a grassland raptor generally found in wet meadows. They nest and roost on the ground in tall grass or in the cover of a bush.
Eating Habits: Capable of taking a wide variety of prey from rodents, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. Harriers most commonly depend on voles for food.

Slim hawks with long wings and tail. Long unfeathered legs and an owl-like facial disk identify the bird at close range. Males are pale gray with streaks of white. The tail is gray with brown bars. Females are dark brown with brown and white streaking in front. The brown tail is barred with dark stripes. The conspicuous white rump patch is diagnostic for this species in the field.

On the Prairie Field Guide Index

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