Saturday, March 19, 2011

First of the Year Northern Harrier (w/photos)

Posted by Kirk
On my drive home from work today something caught my eye flying low over a farm field. Luckily, I had my camera with me and there the road all to myself. I pulled over and started shooting photos out the open window. I was delighted to see this first of the year Northern Harrier. He was very actively hunting for rodents in the field. Please click for the larger images. This is a stunning raptor and the little photos don't do it justice.

The distinctive field mark of the Northern Harrier is the large white band at the base of the tail. You also get a sense of how low to the ground they hunt from this photo. Much of the time he was ten feet or less off the ground.

Northern Harriers used to be known as Marsh Hawks but many people feel they are not true hawks (even though they are in the family Accipitridae.) It takes more than that to be a hawk. Kites and Eagles are Accipitridae but we don't call them hawks either.

He's flying in a very head-down posture as he looks for food. You can also see clearly in this photo below (as well as the first one) that this is a male Harrier. The underwing is essentially white with black wing-tips. The female is more streaked brown. You can also see in other photos like the one above that the overall effect of the upper wing is gray. In most raptors, there is little to no sexual dimorphism, i.e. the males and females look alike. This is not true for harriers.

It is typical for many species that the males return north before the females so they can secure breeding territory .

This isn't the best photo but he's just gone in for the kill. He wasn't successful. He came up with only a handful of thatch.
I watched him for just a few minutes but he made many repeated dives to the ground in search of food. Makes you realize how many mice and voles are really out there.



Larry said...

Beautiful shots or the male Northern Harrier Kirk! This is one of my favorite raptors to watch. I love that low, buoyant, fluid flight pattern of theirs. I always wondered why I see more female harriers than male until I discovered that the immature bird looks like the female for at least the first year.

Great information and post on the Northern Harrier!