College of Veterinary Medicine |

Healthy Animals, Healthy People, Healthy Planet


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.

Washington State University