Northern Harrier

Circus cyaneus
Northern Harrier specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Intermediate in appearance between the slim bird hawks (genus Accipiter) and thick-set buzzards (genus Buteo), the Northern Harrier is most easily identified by its size (17 ½ - 24 inches), long wings, long squared-off tail, and conspicuous white rump patch. Male Northern Harriers are light gray above and pale below, while females are solid brown above and streaked brown and tan below. Like most species of raptors, females are larger than males. The Northern Harrier is found widely across Eurasia (where it is known as the Hen Harrier) and North America. In the New World, this species breeds across Canada, Alaska, and the northern tier of the United States. In winter, Northern Harriers may be found from the southern Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest south to Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. In the Old World, this species breeds across northern Europe and Asia south to Portugal and northern China, wintering as far south as North Africa and South Asia. The Northern Harrier inhabits a variety of open habitats, including grassland, marshes, and agricultural fields. This species avoids built-up areas and forests. The diet of the Northern Harrier consists primarily of small mammals and songbirds. Due to this species’ preference for open habitat, Northern Harriers may be most easily observed flying low over the tops of tall grasses in search of prey. Less frequently, Northern Harriers may be seen soaring high over open areas, displaying their characteristic long tail and wings. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Fairly common breeder, common migrant, and very common wintering resident along tidal marshes and barrier beaches of the Eastern Shore. Nests from late April to late July. Often see in agricultural fields in winter, The male is slate gray, the female brown.

Specimen Information

There are two Northern Harriers on exhibit, somewhat separated from each other.  The bird near the left corner is a female; the bird on the right is a male.
Date:  2/24/1913
Collected By:  Ernest B Marshall
Locality:  Laurel, MD
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  234159

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalization

Circus cyaneus