Northern harrier

Circus cyaneus

NH Conservation Status: Endangered


Federal Status: Not listed; Northern harriers are legally protected in New Hampshire. Possession and take (which includes harming, harassing, injuring and killing) is illegal.


Distribution: Breeds north of the White Mountains; most commonly in agricultural areas of Coos County. May be seen in April during spring migration and September when fall migration peaks.


Description: 17 ½ – 24” long with a 40-46” wingspan. Males are pale gray with white underparts and females are brown on top with streaked underparts. Both have owl-like facial disk and a white rump patch above a long tail.


Voice: Both males and females make a series of short, quick, “kek” sounds. During the breeding season females give loud wails.


Commonly Confused Species: Rough-legged hawk, Cooper’s hawk, or short-eared owl. White rump and owl-like facial disk present in both sexes at all ages distinguish Northern harriers from other species.

Habitat: Breeds in old fields, agricultural areas, wet meadows and fresh water marshes; uses many open habitats for foraging. Prefers low woody vegetation for nesting sites.


Nesting: Northern harriers begin breeding usually at 2 years of age. Nests are built on the ground in April - June, usually in dry fields with dense vegetation. They have one brood per year that typically consists of 4-6 eggs. Incubation ranges from 28-36 days and chicks are able to fly between 30-35 days after hatching.


Diet: Small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects.