Nature's Focus: Northern Harrier at the Great Swamp NWR
Female Northern Harrier.
All photos courtesy of Thomas Gorman
by Thomas W Gorman
The Northern Harrier, (Circus cyaneus), is a bird of prey, which inhabits tidal marshlands, wetlands, and fields. The Northern Harrier will hunt by slowly gliding over the tops of tall weeds and grasses and when it sees something of interest, it will hover and then drop down, in the hopes of catching its prey. The Northern Harrier primarily will hunt mice, voles, and pretty much any small mammal.
Male Northern Harrier.
When this sort of prey is not available, they will then take any opportunity to capture small birds, snakes and even insects. Recently a Northern Harrier was viewed at the Great Swamp NWR, capturing a small Muskrat. As one would expect, the Harrier had some difficulty trying to fly off with a meal much heavier than the Harrier would normally take. In the case of the Muskrat, the Harrier dragged it further into the field.
The Northern Harrier has a face similar to that of an Owl, and it also displays a distinctive white rump patch. The Northern Harrier is also formally known as the Marsh Hawk.