Skip Navigation

Species Search:
FieldGuidesthreatened and/or endangered search resultsthreatened and/or endangered

previous  | next

Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus


enlarge +

Adult female Northern Harrier, American subspecies
credit: Len Blumin/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

All Images


Get Our Newsletters


Advanced Search

Alternate name: Marsh Hawk

Family: Accipitridae, Hawks and Eagles view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has pale blue-gray head and upperparts and a striking white rump (only obvious in flight); underparts are mainly pale, but note the reddish streaks, most intense on chest. In flight, dark trailing edge to wings and black wingtips are most striking when seen from below. Note the faintly barred, black-tipped tail. ADULT FEMALE Brown, with darker barring on wings and tail, streaking on body underparts, and narrow white rump; white head markings create an owl-like facial disk. JUVENILE Similar to adult female, but plumage is tinged reddish orange, particularly on underparts.

Dimensions Length: 16-24" (41-61 cm); Wngspn: 3' 6" (1.1 m)

Habitat Widespread and fairly common although seldom seen in large numbers, except when gathering at communal winter roosts. Favors marshes, grassland, and open country with plenty of small mammal prey. Summer breeding visitor (present mainly May-Aug) to much of northern North America, present year-round across Midwest belt and a winter visitor further south.

Observation Tips Easiest to find in winter.

Range New England, California, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, Southeast, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Northwest, Great Lakes, Texas, Florida, Eastern Canada, Southwest, Western Canada

Voice Mostly silent.

Discussion Long-winged, long-tailed raptor that is typically seen gliding at slow speeds low over the ground with almost effortless ease and seldom a wingbeat. Often quarters the ground in a fairly systematic manner, searching for prey: feeds mainly on small mammals and birds, located in part by hearing. In direct flight, wingbeats are deep and powerful. Sexes are dissimilar in plumage terms and males are smaller than females.