Northern Harriers are an easily recognizable, medium-sized raptor. They glide low over fields and marshes, swooping back and forth as they look and listen for small mammals. They have a big white patch on the rump that is easily visible and makes a good identifying mark. They breed in Canada into Alaska and in the US along the central and eastern border with Canada. They are an open area hunter and live in prairie and tundra environments. They need to move south in the winter to avoid deep snow that prevents them from finding their prey. They are fairly common in the salt marshes along our coast during the winter since the marshes are much like their home. These pictures were taken at Hampton State Park in New Hampshire and at Salisbury State Park a few miles south in Massachusetts.
This one was gliding across the dunes behind the beach in Hampton.
The one we spotted at Salisbury flew directly toward and over me. Here you can see the wings held in a characteristic V as the Harrier scans the ground.
Some more shots of a Harrier on the hunt. The white rump is visible in the top photo.
Taking a break from the hunt.
I was able to get some closeups of the face as it flew over me. Harriers have a very owl-like face. They are a hawk and are not related to owls. But, like an owl, they use sound as part of their hunting method. The owl look is from the feathers that form a “dish” to funnel sound to the ears. This is not something you want to look up and see if you are a vole or a rabbit!
These were females or juveniles. The males are a lighter, gray color which gives them their nickname: Gray Ghost.