News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters Country birds - 11/25/2020

The Marsh Hawk or Northern Harrier [circus hudsonius] is a member of a global group of raptors that are equipped with special tools for silent hunting. Its long, broad wings allow it to glide easily over grasslands, with minimal flapping, moving at a slower pace than other hawks. They use their acute hearing and have a circular arrangement of stiff feathers on their face that collects the sounds of rodents, insects and snakes rustling amongst the foliage. These facial discs are similar to owls and contributes to their owl-like appearance.

The common name, Harrier, is from the Old English word “herrigan” and means to harass or plunder.

Both parents build the ground nest within a willowed or brushy area. Four to five dull white eggs are incubated for 28-36 days and the male brings food to the female and her brood for another 14 days. The young then leave and begin learning to hunt, first attacking inanimate objects as they master their flying techniques.

Male and female Northern Harriers have very different plumages, and only adult males are “gray ghosts,” with gray feathers on the back and pure white below, with black on the tips and trailing edge of the wings. Females, meanwhile, are brown-backed and streaked below while juveniles of both sexes are brown with rich orange bellies. When harriers gather, they are referred to as a “harassment” or a “swarm” of harriers.

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