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Northern Harrier

Updated: Feb 25

Although Northern Harriers (Circus hudsonius) have a wide range in North America, their dependency on extensive, open, grassy fields and scrub-wetlands makes them scarce in Pennsylvania. Harriers are a slender bird with a long tail and distinctive white rump patch that make them easy to identify as they glide low over open fields. The silvery gray adult males are often called Gray Ghosts, while the adult females (shown here) are brown above and lighter below. Juveniles are darker brown above with cinnamon undersides. Northern Harriers have an owl-like facial disk that allows them to hunt by sound and sight. They hunt on the wing, flying in a slight dihedral to help with stability, as they soar back and forth over fields, searching for small mammals and birds.


In Pennsylvania, reclaimed strip mines provide the highest amount of suitable habitat - and the best areas to document this species - since many wetlands and old fields have been lost due to suburban sprawl and intensive farming. Other birds that will benefit from protecting Northern Harrier habitat are wetland and upland grassland birds including Upland Sandpipers and Short-eared Owls.


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