Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Glimpse of a Wintering Visitor--Northern Harrier

Northern Harriers are among my favorite raptors.  They caught my attention many years ago when I lived in a rural area of east Tennessee with plenty of open fields dotting the landscape.  Several Northern Harriers wintered-over in the area and provided me with daily opportunities to observe their behavior.    
In the morning I would often see them as they flew out from their roost at early light.  And in the evening, like clock-work, they would return for one last hunt before dusk.  Harriers roost on the ground in grassy fields, so I suspected that the roost being used was either in our field or one adjacent to the property.
The Northern Harrier pictured above was seen at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge during a March nature "Walk-about" sponsored by Ijams Nature Center and interpreted by Stephen Lyn Bales on March 19th.  Like a wished-for celebrity, this female Northern Harrier made an appearance and glided gracefully over the grasses in search of prey.
Harriers winter over in Tennessee, arriving in the fall and departing sometime in early April for breeding grounds in the northern states and Canada.  A slim hawk that glides and tilts low over the ground as it hunts, it is one of the few hawks that can hover in place while it hons in on its prey.   Their wings are held in a dihedral position, slightly above horizontal, as they glide.  It is this posture and flight pattern, as well as, its white rump patch,  that make this hawk easy to distinguish from other raptor species.

Below, an earlier encounter with a Northern Harrier at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI, in 2009.
Links and References:
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge and my article on Bird Banding at SIWR
Ijams Nature Center Walk-Abouts
Northern Harrier in Wisconsin

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Welcome! I am glad to hear your comments, questions and feedback! Vickie

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