Nature Journal
with Photos

          
Northern Harrier Identification Tips
(Credit: U. S. Geological Survey)
 
General Information
- Medium-sized, long-winged, long-tailed hawk
- Rounded wings, can appear pointed while gliding
- White rump
- Short, dark, hooked beak
- Often courses low over marshes and fields on wings
  held in a strong dihedral
- Flat face with owl-like facial disk

Adult male
- Pale gray body plumage, paler on underparts
- Darker gray head
- Black tips to flight feathers, especially noticeable on
  the outer primaries
- Narrow dark bars on tail

Adult female
- Buff underparts with darker streaks on breast, belly,
  and underwing coverts
- Dark barring on flight feathers most visible from below
- Dark patch on inner wing created by dark secondaries
  and dark secondary covert
- Dark brown above
- Narrow barring on tail

Immature
- Dark brown streaked head
- Orange-buff underparts without streaks
- Dark barring on flight feathers most visible from below
- Dark patch on inner wing created by dark secondaries
  and dark secondary covert
- Dark brown above
- Narrow dark barring on tail

Similar species
In typical habitat, the harrier is easily recognized by the low, coursing flight, white rump, and wings held at an angle. Rough-legged Hawks occupy similar habitat but have broader wings and a black subterminal tail band.

When migrating, harriers can fly at great heights where many of their features become less obvious. The white rump cannot be seen, the wings may not appear held at an angle and the tail may be fanned. The pale underwings with black primary tips of the male make it distinctive. The dark inner wings of females and immatures are a helpful clue. Harriers appear thinner-winged and longer-tailed than buteos and longer-winged than accipiters.
 
 
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