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Northern Harrier

Scientific Name:

Circus hudsonius




Marshes and wetlands, grasslands, tundra, and high-desert shrub steppe.


All of North America


Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

This species is


to the Truckee Meadows.


Northern Harriers are also commonly known as Marsh Hawks because they fly low and slow over marshes and grasslands searching for prey. Northern Harriers are more slim in appearance when compared to other raptors, with long wings and a long tail. Male Northern Harriers have gray backs and white undersides, while females and juveniles are usually brown (to blend in with their surroundings) with a white underside. Their weight ranges from about ½ pound to 1.5 pounds, with the females being larger than males. A characteristic that distinguishes Northern Harriers from other hawks is an owl-like appearance to their face; that shape enhances their hearing which they use to locate and hunt their prey. The diet of Northern Harriers will vary by seasonal availability, with the bulk of their diet consisting of rodents and other small mammals while birds, lizards, insects, and carrion might also be included.

Fast Facts:

  • Male Northern Harriers may have one to five mates (most commonly one to two) depending on the availability of food. While females incubate the eggs and care  for the young, the male will hunt and provide food to the nest.

  • To attract a female, male Northern Harriers will perform an elaborate sky-dance of dives and rolls from nearly 1000 feet in the air. Their nests are built on the ground by females with males collecting and contributing the building materials.

  • Though Northern Harriers are listed as Least Concern, The Audubon Society notes that they have decreased in numbers in their southern ranges and nesting areas and some of their populations are in decline.



Regina Hockett (research & content)

Rachel Carroll (edits & page design)

Last Updated:

March 27, 2024 at 1:48:22 AM

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