Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier, Vancouver Island, BC
Northern Harrier, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo Copyright By Sean McCann

Northern harriers can be found all across the north including all of the Pacific Northwest, they prefer open country, like grasslands, wetlands, meadows, cultivated areas, and woodland forest settings. Birds in the northern part of their range will migrate south during the winter months, southern populations do not migrate.

The male Northern Harrier hawk is light tawny gray with a white rump that can be seen when flying, the female is brown above and streaked with brown underneath. Both have long, narrow wings and long tails. The male is up to 60 cm long and the female is a bit bigger at up to 72 cm long.

They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and carrion. Harriers hunt using a slow flight, when prey is spotted, plunge onto their prey from above.

Northern harriers are called the marsh hawk, and they nest in the wetlands here on our island. They build their nests on the ground, hidden in thick vegetation. The nest is made of sticks and grass. The female lays up to 6 eggs. The eggs are incubated for about 30 days, and the young hawks fledge 4 to 6 weeks later. Harriers reach sexual maturity by the time they are 3 years of age.

When the breeding season is here, the female will stay with the nest and the male does all the hunting, after a successful hunt, the male returns to the nesting area and while still in the air, he calls the female. She will fly up to greet him, and he then throws the catch to her. She will roll onto her back to catch it. Very impressive to see, after she has the food, she heads back to the nest but not directly, she lands in a tree, and with just her head sticking above the foliage, she will watch to make sure no one is following her, once satisfied that all is safe, she flies to the nest. You don’t get to see their nests very often.

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2 thoughts on “Northern Harrier”

  1. Spotted at CN main yard terminal by Science world.

    Crows dive bombed her for several minutes before grouping up in a tree.

    Sometimes spotted underneath the terminal street overpass by Clark

  2. Very cool to see one (by appearances this is the most likely hawk – two days in a row, dusk) in Surrey B.C. at Tynehead park Jan 12 – 13 2021.

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