What are Northern Harriers?

by OBDK on September 27, 2021

Harriers are birds that belong to the Accipitridae family, of which there are 224 members of eagles, hawks, vultures, harriers, and kites. These birds can be found throughout the world, but only one of the 13 species of Harrier is found within North America. This is the Northern Harrier. They can stand between one and a half to two feet tall and have a wingspan of three to four feet.1


Northern Harriers have been around for a while. Fossils have been found in northern Mexico that date back to between 11,000-40,000 years ago.2 These birds love to eat mammals and will eat many rodents, as well as reptiles and insects.1 Their faces tend to look owlish and just like owls, they rely on both hearing and sight to hunt, instead of just sight.2


Northern Harriers hang out in open areas, like marshes, fields, and prairies. When they have offspring, their nests will usually be on the ground. Females will sit on the eggs for about a month and then take over hunting duties when their offspring is over two weeks old.3 Northern Harriers are partially migratory, and while they’ll return to the same areas to nest each year, they won’t use the same specific nest site each time.1 


Harriers may also be polygamous or monogamous. However, for females, being with a male that has multiple mates can cause them and their offspring to be at a disadvantage. When the males go out to hunt and bring back food, females that are with the polygamous males will receive less food. This can cause the females to go out and hunt earlier than they normally would, leaving their offspring at risk.1


These birds are considered of low concern when it comes to conservation, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face threats that affect their population numbers.2 They face threats from mainly habitat loss – from draining wetlands, farmlands, and monotypic farming practices. In places like the United Kingdom, Harriers are sought after to kill because they are deemed a threat to game like Red Grouses.1


Check out more birds of prey resources on our blog here

  1. https://www.hawkmountain.org/raptors/northern-harrier

  2. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Harrier/overview

  3. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/northern-harrier

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