Closer To Home: Northern Harrier

Lately we’ve been exploring other nearby bodies of water besides the lake. The other day we went to a small wetlands nearby to chase the geese. Just kidding; I only chase the ones we feed (to work off the extra calories, of course).

Anyway, we saw a hawk coming toward us from the edge of the trees.

Notice where she’s watching? As usual, you’ll just have to trust me if the picture quality stinks; I didn’t get the chance to get a closeup picture of her because I was hurriedly putting the window up on the car. Yeah, that’s right, she came straight at us and was about a foot away from running into the (now closed) window. Luckily, she either realized she was about to run into a window or was just riding a wind current, because she banked around and quickly spotted something in the grass just on the other side of a small hill. Hopefully you’ve been practicing I Spy and will spot her right off in this picture, right?

Don’t worry, the other half and I have been practicing really hard at it, so we’re actually getting worse at setting up nice shots because we know where the birds are hiding in the pictures.

I’m sure you’re wondering how we know the hawk is a ‘she.’ The great thing about hawks is that the females are almost always bigger than the males. In some cases, such as with harriers, the female has entirely different plumage than the male (much like with ducks). This is called sexual dimorphism, and it makes it much easier to tell the gender of the animal without having to get too close. In this case, male harriers are actually more silver-grey, while females are brown and have a white oval of feathers around their head called a facial disc (think the circle of feathers around a barn owl’s face).

Harriers are also called marsh hawks (bet you can’t guess why!), and they are low-gliders that like to stick close to the lay of the land in order to find their prey. They are extremely widespread and can even be found in Europe and Asia. How awesome is that?

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