Micah is a male Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
who came to the Raptor Club in August of 2010. He was hit by a
combine, resulting in the traumatic amputation of most of his
left wing. Luckily, Micah was very young when the injury
happened, and has since been able to learn how to balance with
only one wing.
Northern Harriers are one of the few raptors that are sexually
dimorphic. The females are streaked brown and tan, while the
males are silvery grey on top and nearly all white underneath,
with black wingtips. Females have dark brown eyes, and males
have bright yellow eyes. Both males and females have white rump
feathers, which makes them easily identifiable in the field. The
juveniles resemble the females, so it is impossible to determine
the sex of a harrier until about 1 year of age when the bird
begins molting. For this reason, Micah was DNA-tested early on
to determine that he was a male.
Harriers are found throughout North America and on many
Caribbean islands. The winter range includes most of Mexico and
parts of Central and South America, and the summer range can
extend as far north as the Arctic Circle. They prefer grassland
or wetland habitat. They build their nest out of grasses on the
ground in an open agricultural field or meadow. Male harriers
are often mated to more than one female at a time. One male can
have up to five females nesting in the same area, and he will
provide food for all of the females and their young throughout
the nesting period.
Northern Harriers eat mostly small rodents, from mice to
squirrels. Harriers that live near water sometimes hunt ducks
and amphibians. Larger prey can often be subdued by drowning.
They hunt on the wing – flying low over open fields or marshes
to flush out prey. A unique characteristic of the harrier is its
facial disk, similar to that of an owl. They have a ring of
stiff feathers around the face that help them collect sound and
transmit it back to their ears. They rely on both their vision
and their hearing for hunting.