South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Northern Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Length: 18 - 22 inches Wingspan: 40 - 48 inches Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: White rump patch in flight, long black-tipped wings, long tail

Northern Harrier - Circus cyaneusOften seen flying low and slow over fields in search of prey, the Northern Harrier can be easily identified in flight by the white rump patch.  They were formerly known as the Marsh Hawk.

Habitat: As the former name implies, it is often found in marshes or sloughs, but may also be found over dryland prairie and farm fields.

Diet: Small mammals, birds, snakes, frogs, and large insects. 

Behavior: Typically hunts by flying low over fields and open lands.  They are capable of hovering when prey is spotted. 

Nesting: May through June

Song: Piercing whistles and high thin calls.

Migration: Northern populations do migrate, but southern populations may be semi-permanent residents.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Harrier sightings

Similar Species: Rough-legged Hawk, Mississippi Kite

Conservation Status: Seems to be declining, possibly because of loss of wetland habitat and/or pesticide use.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Northern Harrier

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Northern Harrier"

3) Northern Harrier

Photo Information: April 19th, 2007 - Point Reyes National Seashore, California - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Northern Harrier photos.


Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view 
Northern Harrier - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and summer resident.  Uncommon in winter in the south, rare in the north.