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Northern Harrier

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Is the Northern Harrier right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Marsh Hawk

Scientific name: Circus hudsonius

The basics:
The Northern Harrier, once known as the Marsh Hawk, tends to be one of the most visible and easily recognizable diurnal birds of prey in North America, thanks to its characteristic style of flying long and low over marshes, seeming to tilt this way and that as it glides. As its owl-like facial disc and "listening" movement suggests, these birds hunt for rodents by sound as well as by sight.

The Northern Harrier is very rare in falconry and is best recommended to the advanced expert with the right permits and experience to manage these interesting raptors. Males are thought to be more likely to hunt birds, while the larger females prefer rodents.

In 2014, the Northern Harrier was split into two species. You will find tons of photographs and information under the old scientific name of Circus cyaneus. However, this name now goes with the Old World version of the bird, Hen Harrier. Our North American species is now called C. hudsonius.

Appearance:
A long-legged, long-tailed, mid-sized bird of prey with a noticeable facial disc which sets it apart from other diurnal raptors. There's an also an eye-catching white patch on the rump of all plumages and all ages. Females/juveniles tend to be brownish, while adult males are gray, making adults easy to sex even at a distance. Adult male Northern Harriers have less extensive black on their primaries compared to Hen Harriers. Like many other raptors, the females tend to be larger and heavier.

Weight:
Male: 346 grams (12 oz.)
Female: 500 grams (18 oz.)

Average size:
Male: 43 centimeters (17 in.)
Female: 48 centimeters (19 in.)

Lifespan:
15 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Northern Harrier tends to fly low, listening as well as looking for prey. There may be an ethical and legal problem with flying these birds, since they may attempt to take protected songbirds.

A single male may have more than one mate.

Housing:
In addition to needing a secure flight safe from thieves and larger birds of prey, the Northern Harrier will greatly appreciate a small bath.

Diet:
The Northern Harrier is a carnivore that needs to consume some whole prey in order to allow its digestive system to work properly. In the wild, this predator consumes a varied diet of both birds and mammals, and you should duplicate a varied diet in captivity, providing small rodents, day old chicks, and more. They should also be provided with water.

Written by Elaine Radford

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