- The northern harrier (formerly marsh hawk) is a slim hawk about 50 centimetres (20 inches) long.
- Is most easily recognized by a prominent white rump patch.
- Unlike the rest of the hawk family, male and female northern harriers differ noticeably in their plumage.
- The male of this species has pale grey upperparts and throat.
- Female plumage is dark grey-brown blotched with rust.
- Both male and female northern harriers have cream to white under-parts lightly streaked with brown, a banded tail, and
a white rump patch.
- When in flight, the wings are tilted slightly upwards.
- When hunting, the northern harrier glides low over fields and marshes. While gliding, this hawk tilts from side to side,
giving it an unsteady appearance.
- The northern harrier breeds throughout most of North America.
- It winters in the southern states of Central America.
- In Alberta, the harrier is found in most natural regions, being most common in the grassland and parkland.
- The northern harrier is common in and around marshes and wet meadows.
- Prey includes:
- ground squirrels
- large insects
- Nests of reeds and grasses are built on the ground, usually in a protective cover of tall grasses or shrubs.
- Four to six eggs are laid annually.
The northern harrier is classified as Sensitive in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:
- Numbers for this species are declining over much of North America; maintenance of wetland habitats for waterfowl is beneficial.
- Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the northern harrier is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified
as a non-game species.
Updated: Jan 8, 2014