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Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents Dig Imperial Beach "Bird of the Week" the "Hen Harrier or Northern Harrier"

Sep 22, 2016 03:58PM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the Dig Imperial Beach “Bird of the Week”. This week’s bird is the "Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) or Northern Harrier"

The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.

If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link: 

Bryan Brillhart Photography

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) or Northern Harrier

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) or Northern Harrier, a bird of prey. Parts of Europe and Asia have several kinds of harriers, but North America has only one. Harriers are very distinctive hawks, long-winged and long-tailed, usually seen quartering low over the ground in open country. At close range, the face of our northern harrier looks 

rather like that of an owl; and like an owl (and unlike most other hawks) it may rely on its keen hearing to help it locate prey as it courses low over the fields. Northern harriers have disappeared from many of their former nesting areas, especially in southern parts of their range, and surveys suggest that it is still declining in parts of North America.

Their habitat is in marshes, fields, and prairies. They are found in many kinds of open terrain, in both wet and dry habitats, where there is good ground cover. They are often found in marshes, especially in nesting season, but sometimes will nest in dry open fields.

Northern harriers usually hunt by flying low over fields, and scanning the ground. Males tend to fly lower and faster than females. They may find some prey by sound. On locating prey in dense cover, they hover low over the site or attempt to drive prey out into the open.

Northern harrier’s diet is mostly small mammals and birds. Diet varies with location and season. They often specialize on voles, rats, or other rodents, but also take other mammals, up to the size of small rabbits. They may eat many birds, from songbirds up to size of flickers, doves, and small ducks, also eating large insects (especially grasshoppers), snakes, lizards, toads, and frogs. They also may feed on carrion, especially in winter.

Often nesting in loose colonies, one male may have two or more mates in a single season. In courtship, a male flies up and then dives, repeatedly, in a roller-coaster pattern. Their nest site is on ground in a dense field or marsh, and sometimes low over shallow water. Nests are built mostly by females with males supplying some material. Nests may be a shallow depression lined with grass, or a platform of sticks, grass, and weeds.

After mating, females lay 4-6, sometimes 2-7, rarely more, pale bluish-white, fading to white and becoming nest-stained, sometimes spotted with pale brown eggs. Incubation is by females only for 30-32 days. Females remain with young most of time at first. Males bring 

food and deliver it to the female, who feeds it to their young. After the young are about 2 weeks old, females do much of the hunting for them. Young may move short distances away from the nest after about a week, but return to their nest to be fed, and are able to fly at about 30-35 days.

Look for this bird of prey hunting in our own Tijuana Estuary. They are easily identifiable by a white patch just above their tail feathers. Until next week, happy birding!


Bryan Brillhart


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