Is That an Owl…

Or a Northern Harrier?

Northern Harriers are one of the first birds that Katherine introduced me to a few years ago (before we started birding in earnest) when we were running in Pogonip.

“There’s a Harrier…on that bush. They fly low to the ground.”

I was super-impressed. At that time, I could tell a duck from a “not a duck,” but not much else.

Male Northern Harrier in flight low over the fields of Wilder Ranch.

Katherine taught me to look for the white rump patch.

Female Northern Harrier with distinctive white rump feathers.

I soon learned that the males and females differ in both size and color. The brown female is larger than her “gray ghost” partner.

The “Gray Ghost” in flight

The male Harrier is one of the few raptors who will mate with several female. The record is five females to one male. I’d seen two females flying about together. They’d looked like they were having a tiff. Were they part of some male’s harem?

Female Northern Harrier in flight.

I’ve never knowingly seen a juvenile Harrier, but you can identify them by their eyes. Adults have lemon yellow eyes. Juvenile males have greenish-yellow eyes while juvenile females have “dark chocolate brown eyes.” I’ll have to look at all my Harrier pictures and see if any are juveniles.

In the meantime, here are a couple of my favorite Harrier photos:

Female Northern Harrier doing an imitation of a gargoyle.
Female Northern Harrier taking flight.

Katherine has a strong interest in indigenous cultures. So, for Katherine: “Some Native American tribes believe that seeing a hawk on your wedding day is a sign of a long, happy marriage.” We weren’t birdwatching at the time of our wedding, but I’d like to think a raptor was flying overhead.

Katherine and I see Harriers often, but are always excited to identify them. I’ve learned that their population is declining, mostly due to habitat loss. That seems to be the main culprit when bird populations are in decline. (Don’t get me started on climate change!)

Okay, now, back to the beginning.

Northern Harriers’ facial disc feathers resemble that of owls. Here are three pictures of owls I’ve seen. Do the Northern Harriers and (any of) the owls look similar? You be the judge.

Northern Pygmy Owl.
Great Horned Owl.
Barn Owl.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 1, 2021 9:13 pm

Good info. I would have probably mistaken one for an owl or hawk.
Kathy says “I could tell a duck from a “not a duck,” Lol, almost peed myself.

I would love to hear what you think; add a comment!x