Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus

adult male
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult female
Blake Shaw/VIREO
Claude Nadeau/VIREO
adult male
Blake Shaw/VIREO
adult female
Arthur Morris/VIREO
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female
Harold Stiver/VIREO
adult male
Bob Steele/VIREO
Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier


16-24" (41-61 cm). W. 3' 6" (1.1 m). A long-winged, long-tailed hawk with a white rump, usually seen gliding unsteadily over marshes with its wings held in a shallow V. Male has pale gray back, head, and breast; wing tips black. Female and young are brown above, streaked below, young birds with a rusty tone.


At the nest it utters a kee-kee-kee-kee or a sharp whistle, but usually silent.


male courtship calls
female squeals & chatter
alarm calls of pair at nest (male calls first)
female alarm


Marshes and open grasslands.


Breeds from Alaska, northern Canada, and Maritime Provinces south to southern California, Arizona, Kansas, and Virginia. Winters from South America north to British Columbia, Great Lakes, and New Brunswick. Also in Eurasia.


This is the only North American member of a group of hawks known as harriers. All hunt by flying close to the ground and taking small animals by surprise. They seldom pursue their prey in the air or watch quietly from an exposed perch, as do other birds of prey. Harriers have keener hearing than other hawks; their disk-shaped faces, not unlike those of owls, enable them to amplify sound. This species is often known as the Marsh Hawk.


4 or 5 pale blue or white eggs, unmarked or with light brown spots, on a mound of dead reeds and grass in a marsh or shrubby meadow.

Similar Species

adult male, dark morph

Rough-legged Hawk

19-24" (48-61 cm). W. 4' 4" (1.3 m). A large, long-winged hawk that often hovers. Tail white at base with a dark terminal band.


Harris's Hawk

18-23" (46-76 cm). W. 3' 7" (1.1 m). A black, crow-sized hawk with chestnut shoulders and thighs, white on rump and base of tail, and white tail tip. Immatures similar but more streaked.


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