During the winter months a drive through the wetlands in Utah you are sure to see large numbers of slender long-tailed hawks flying low just above the cattails and Phragmites then all of the sudden drop down out of sight. These slender owl faced hawks are Northern Harriers.
Unlike other hawks, the Northern Harrier relies on its hearing as well as its vision to capture prey. The feathers of the face are stiff to help transmit sound, and it shows a pronounced "facial disk," much like that of an owl.
|Male Northern Harrier|
Male DescriptionHead, back, and upper chest light gray, wing-tips black. Line of black on rear of wings. Underwings white. Tail darkish gray above and whitish below, with some barring. Rump white.
|Female Harrier eating a Common Merganser|
Their most notable field mark is the white band on the rump at the base of it's tail. One of my favorite pass-times in winter is to watch these graceful birds hunt for voles at Farmington Bay.
|Hunting Voles at Farmington Bay|
The Northern Harrier feeds primarily on mice, voles and small birds. It will, however, take larger prey, such as rabbits and ducks. It has been known to subdue large prey by drowning it. I watched one take a fish out of the water one time.
Back dark brown, with many feathers edged with tawny. Face streaked brown and whitish. Face outlined by white facial disk. Chest and belly streaked tan. Rump white. Upper side of wings brown, lower side barred white and dark brown. Tail brown with dark bars.