Ophelia is a Northern Harrier (or Marsh Hawk) (Circus cyaneus). She came to us in the summer of 2005 after she had been found on the ground bleeding from her wing. After stabilizing her, she was found to have severe damage to her wing. It is not known what happened but injury by the cutting blades of a combine or haying machine is suspected. Regardless of the cause of the injury, the end of her wing required amputation and she will never be able to fly. When Ophelia came in she was only a fledgling, just learning how to fly.
Northern Harriers are very common in the Palouse and they can be seen from the spring until fall flying low over the rolling hills. They are considered one of the most agile and acrobatic raptors in North America. They can be identified when they are flying away from you by the large white patch of feathers on their rump (just where the tail meets the lower back). Males can be identified from females and juveniles as males are gray on the back, white on their belly, and have black wing tips while females and juveniles are brown on the back and striped cream with brown on their belly.
Northern Harriers have a facial disk which is a ring of lightly colored, stiff feathers surrounding their head, like that of like an owl. The facial disk helps them in hunting by focusing sound emitted from prey and directing the sound to their ears. They will fly low over the fields with their head pointed toward the ground. When they hear something, they hover over the area and then dive down to catch their prey. They eat small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and small birds.
Northern Harriers nest on the ground in unplowed fields, or more generally grasslands, which can get them into trouble in the Palouse when the fields are cut for hay or harvested. They prefer marshlands for hunting and breeding. Northern Harriers are not endangered species, but their numbers are declining due to loss of habitat, especially marshlands.