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Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)


Harrier Name Derivation:

Circus: : From the Greek kirkos used by Aristotle to describe a hawk with circling flight.
Cyaneus: Latin for "blue" referring to the slate blue color of the male.
Northern: In reference to its northern geographic location.
Harrier:: Refers to the flight pattern of the bird, seeming to harry, or harass its prey

Other names:

Marsh Hawk, Hen Harrier, Mouse Hawk, Blue Hawk (for males); Spanish - gavilán ratonero, rastrojero


Class: Aves; Order: Falconiformes; Family: Accipitridae

Key Identification Characters:

Adult male: pale gray head and upper parts; long tail with white rump patch; yellow legs; yellow eye; adult female and immature are brownish overall (with immature underparts a uniform rust brown) with long tail and white rump patch; adults and immature female eyes brown, immature male eyes gray. Length, 18"; wingspan, 43".


Europe, Asia, Northern Africa, North and Central America
El Paso Region: Common migrant and winter resident, occasional summer resident, only one historic nesting record


Small mammals ca. 58% (especially voles & cotton rats, young cottontails, young jackrabbits, young ground squirrels); ca. 34% birds (generally sparrow to Mourning Dove size); ca. 9% other prey including large insects (grasshoppers, beetles, crickets), lizards, plant material taken incidentally--but some young birds found with significant amounts of berries, perhaps consumed mistakenly as animal prey.


Number of eggs/clutch:Range of 2 to 10; normally 4 to 6; egg:pale bluish white, generally unmarked; 1.80" x 1.40"; nesting: on or close to ground; ground nest often a simple depression lined with grasses; in wet areas sticks and weed stalks interwoven to form a nest up to 30" deep; greenery added periodically during nesting; reports of colonial nesting, bigamy, and harem polygyny (one male with many females)


Photo Credit: National Park Service.

Contributor: Scott M. Cutler, Curator of Collections and Exhibits; Curator of Ornithology