Bird Species of the World's Boreal Forests


Circus cyaneus
Northern Harrier


Distinguishing Features - Length: 45 - 60 cm; weight: males: 350 g, females: 530 g. Male: upperparts grey, with dark wing-tips; rump white; underparts white, with light streaking and spotting; tail square, with black subterminal band; bill black, hooked, with yellow cere; legs long, yellow-orange, with taloned feet. Female: upperparts brown, with brown wing-tips; rump white; underparts whitish or pale buff, with heavy brown streaking on breast and flanks, lighter streaking and spotting on belly; tail as in male, but brown, with dark subterminal band; bill and legs as in male.

Northern Harrier Habitat

Breeds throughout much of southern Canada, throughout the Great Lakes, and the northern United States. Breeding populations also occur in the far northwest of North America. It is a common migratory species. The winter range moves into the southern and western United States, British Columbia, and Mexico; rarely on the lower Great Lakes.


Primarily rodents such as voles and mice; also other small vertebrates like snakes, small birds, and frogs. Songbirds appear to be the mainstay of the diet in some areas during the breeding season; insects are also be taken. Young birds are fed at the nest, and the food is torn into small pieces for them there.


The Northern Harrier has a sound-reflecting facial ruff of feathers, similar to an owl's, which it uses to locate prey. When actively hunting, this species flies low over an area, alternately flapping and gliding. It may also make "surprise attacks" on prey by suddenly appearing from behind a curtain of trees.

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