Comprehensive Guide to selected species of:
Birds of the Boreal Forest « back to Guide
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Family: Hawks and Eagles, Accipitridae
Audio: Martyn Stewart, © Naturesound.org
An estimated 17% of the species' North American population breeds within the Boreal Forest.
Description 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.
Habitat Marshes and open grasslands.
Nesting 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.
Voice At the nest it utters a kee-kee-kee-kee or a sharp whistle, but usually silent.
Range 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.
Discussion 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.