MEASUREMENTS: The Northern Harrier has a body length of 17 - 24 inches, a wingspan of 3 1/2 - 4 1/2 feet, and weighs 12 - 18 ounces. The female bird is quite a bit larger than the male. NAME DERIVATION: The scientific name comes from the Greek words kirkos, meaning a circle and refers to flying in circles, and cyan, a blue color alluding to the color of the male bird. Harrier is from the Old English word hergian, and means to harass, ravage, or plunder. This bird has also been called a Marsh Hawk or Hen Harrier.
HABITAT: Northern Harriers reside in North America, Europe, and Asia, and prefer open country, like grasslands, steppes, wetlands, meadows, cultivated areas, and tundra. Birds in the northern part of the range migrate south. DIET: This hawk eats small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and carrion. Harriers hunt using a low, slow flight over the ground, then plunge onto their prey. REPRODUCTION: Northern Harriers nest on the ground in thick grass, shrubbery, or other vegetation. The nest is a pile of sticks and grass. The female lays 3 - 6 eggs depending on the abundance of small rodents. The eggs are incubated 29 - 31 days, and the young hawks fledge 4 - 5 1/2 weeks later. Harriers mature in 2 - 3 years, but may be able to breed their first year.
INTERESTING FACTS: Harriers roost and nest on the ground, often in groups in a traditional location. They are often polygynous, with a single male mating with 2 - 3 or more females. This may be a result of colonial breeding. Unlike most hawks, harriers can use their sense of hearing to help locate prey. Harriers have an owl-like facial disk to help with directional hearing and soft feathers for a quieter flight. Many birds of prey utilize display flights during courtship. The male Northern Harrier’s courtship flight is a series of dramatic “barrel rolls” over his territory.