Saturday, January 26, 2008

Northern Harrier

Another lifer! (It's not hard to find a lifer for me, as my list is only up to 22!)

Yesterday, what appeared to be a large hawk was sitting in the tree in my back yard. I have a small back yard that backs up to a long pond separating me from a golf course. Twiggy brush lines the slope down to the pond, and there is one tree amidst the brush. Within a mile of here, there are several wooded nature preserves and there's a large prairie not far from here.

Northern Harrier

I get frequent visits from Cooper's Hawks and have seen the occasional Sharp-shinned hawk in my yard, but this hawk was different. It was perched on the far side of the tree, just watching the smaller birds as they flew back and forth from my feeders (near my deck) to the tree. The perching wasn't the strange part; the fact that the smaller birds were ignoring the hawk was the strange part! When a Coop flies in and perches, all of the smaller birds disperse immediately and fly away. Yesterday, though, the cardinals, juncos, house finches, and house sparrows were just ignoring the hawk in the tree.

Northern Harrier

I watched with amazement, trying to tell the birds telepathically (from inside my house), "Turn around! There's a hawk RIGHT THERE!" but they weren't listening :)

After a good half hour or so of perching in the tree, the hawk took flight and treated me to some awesome maneuvers. As soon as the hawk took flight, the smaller birds flew away. The hawk hung low over the brush, making long laps back and forth and back and forth. It seemed to glide, hovering over the trees, searching for a meal. I've never seen anything like it.

Northern Harrier

I was able to snap a few photos, which I then tried to use for bird ID purposes. The tail of this hawk in flight was nothing like the shape of the Cooper's or Sharpie. But alas, I couldn't figure out what bird this was, and had to leave for an appointment.

I posted a photo to the Bird ID Help Group on Flickr and left for the night. As I was driving, I thought to myself, some of the photos looked like the bird had an owl face. I figured I might come home to find out that I'm the laughing stock of the bird world, as I posted the photo as "Mystery Hawk" - but what if it really was an owl?! I'd certainly look like a dufus!

Northern Harrier

When I got home, the owner of had replied with an ID of Northern Harrier. Sure enough, that was it! Wow!

What a cool bird! (I was relieved to read of the harrier's "owl-like facial disk" - I wasn't crazy after all!)

The IL Raptor Center web site lists the northern harrier as endangered in Illinois because very few nest here. Has it always been this way, or were there once more northern harriers here? Is the northern harrier an unusual bird to see around here? The Sibley guide lists it as a year-round resident, but the IL Raptor Center web site said that most sightings here are during migration.

Northern Harrier

The northern harrier was in my yard again this morning - again, just perching in the tree while the other birds went about their business of eating. It flew away without any of the spectacular show it had given me yesterday, but I was glad for the visit anyway. Now, if only it would perch on the near side of the tree so I could get a good look at it!

Here's a link to the photos I was able to capture. I have yet to master the art of focusing on flying birds, but I'm glad I've got these shots to remember the event by!

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