NORTHERN HARRIER – (Circus hudsonius) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Northern Harrier is a hawk. The male is dark brown with a lighter circle around the face, with black wing tips. The female is lighter brown. The under parts are white with brown streaks. The base of the tail is white. It has a medium size at a length of approximately 50 cm (20 inches).
NAME: The English name ‘Harrier’ is the British word for birds that ‘harry’ poultry. The Latin genus name ‘Circus’ relates to the circling flight of this hawk. The Latin species name ‘hudsonius’ refers to Hudson Bay.
HABITAT: Open habitats with wetlands.
DIET: Small mammals such as meadow voles, but males will also hunt smaller birds.
NESTING: The nest is built on the ground in dense vegetation. Between three and nine creamy eggs are laid, which are incubated by the female. The chicks are fed by the female with food brought by the male.
DISTRIBUTION:The northern harrier is a North American species. It is widespread in North America, and migrates in Mexico and the Caribbean. The northernmost populations will migrate to the southernmost locations (leapfrog migration). It is a vagrant on Hawaii. (For information on bird vagrancy, please see the note below.)
ON PEI: The northern harrier is fairly common on Prince Edward Island except in the winter.

CONSERVATION: There has been a slight decrease in this falcon population, but given its large range it is currently not considered at risk.
NOTES:  is a bird of prey in the same family as hawks and eagles. The northern harrier is also called ‘good hawk’ by farmers because as opposed to other hawks, this one will not raid poultry.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Rough-legged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk
REFERENCES: (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)

Northern harrier – North Rustico, PEI – Oct. 18, 2015 – by Matt Beardsley
Northern harrier, PEI, by Matt Beardsley
Northern Harrier, female – Mill Valley, CA – Jan. 2006 – photo by Len Blumin
Northern harrier female
by Len Blumin, CA