Watchable Wildlife: The Northern Harrier

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Where can I see a harrier?

Distinct even from a distance, harriers fly low over grasslands and fields sporting a white patch on their rump and holding their wings in a V-shape. Watch these graceful raptors in eastern Arkansas, along the Arkansas River Valley and bit less regularly in the western Ozarks. Come spring, they’ll head to breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada.

What do they look like?

Males are gray and white while the larger females are brown with whitish undersides and brown streaks. Harriers hunt from the wing and fly stealth missions low over the ground. Unlike other hawks, they use their sense of hearing along with sight to capture prey. An up-close look reveals an owlish face with stiff feathers to funnel sounds to their ears.

What do they eat?

Northern Harriers hunt mostly small mammals and small birds (cotton rats, house mice, harvest mice, rice rats, shrews, meadowlarks, cardinals, blackbirds and sparrows) but they are capable of taking bigger prey like rabbits and ducks. They sometimes subdue larger animals by drowning them.

How do they behave?

Adult females generally rule the roost while visiting Arkansas. If a male or lesser female harrier wanders into the wrong territory, they will be met by a large female flying at them at a high rate of speed. She will then escort the intruders out of her territory-they’ll fly several meters below and behind her.

Harriers in their northern breeding grounds can put on quite a spring-time show. Males court females and advertises their territory by performing sky-dancing displays: undulating, roller coaster-like flights up to 1,000 feet off the ground, sometimes covering more than half a mile. 
 

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