Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Northern harrier
Circus cyaneus

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Circus
  • Species: Circus cyaneus
  • Authority: Linnaeus

Comments on taxonomy:
C.c. hudsonius is North American subspecies *06*.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

"Common migrant and winter resident. Occassional summer resident" *01*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types:No records.

Associated tree species:No records.

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent Unknown/unspecified Unknown/unspecified

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Nests in prairies and marshes among low shrubby vegetation, tall weeds or reeds, or sheltered site *05,06,08,10*. Also hunts over fields and pastures *08*.

Important plant and animal association: Microtus pennsylvanicus and M. ochrogaster are important prey spp. when abundant *09,16,17,18*. Harrier and short-eared owl have similar ecological requirements - nesting habitat, prey spp. - and interspecific competition has been cited *19*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Central and eastern grasslands - bluestem prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Cropland and pasture Special habitat Spring/summer
Cropland and pasture Special habitat Fall
Prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Marsh Special habitat Spring/summer
Agricultural field Special habitat Fall
Cropland Special habitat Spring/summer
Forageland Special habitat Fall
Successional field Special habitat Spring/summer
Successional field Special habitat Fall
Abandoned cropland Special habitat Spring/summer
Abandoned cropland Special habitat Fall
Prairie restoration Grass - forb Spring/summer
Marsh restoration Special habitat Spring/summer

Species-habitat interrelations: Breeding habitats (high value) in IL are large areas of prairie and marsh. In migration through Ill., they hunt in pastures and fields *08*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Central and eastern grasslands - bluestem prairie Grass - forb All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Cropland and pasture Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Prairie Grass - forb All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Marsh Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Agricultural field Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Successional field Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Prairie restoration Grass- forb All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds
Marsh restoration Special habitat All Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- reptiles
Terrestrial surface- birds
Terrestrial surface- small mammals (< 1 kg)
Terrestrial surface- carrion
Air- birds

Comments on feed-guilding:
Harriers are predatory birds that soar low (10-30 ft) above fields, short grass, pastures and other open country types. Prey are usually taken on ground and consist mainly of small mammals but also birds, frogs, small reptiles, crustaceans and insects *06*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Central and eastern grasslands- bluestem prairie Grass- forb Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Cropland and pasture Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Prairie Grass- forb Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Marsh Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Agricultural field Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Successional field Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Prairie restoration Grass- forb Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation
Marsh restoration Special habitat Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation

Comments on breed-guilding:
Harriers are ground nesters usually in marsh or prairie type situations in areas sheltered by low shrubs, tall weeds or reeds *06*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Insecta Adult
Isoptera (termites) Adult
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Sauria (lizards, skinks, iguana) Adult
Serpentes (snakes) Adult
Mammals Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Juvenile
Birds Adult
Important:
Mammals Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Juvenile
Birds Adult
Juvenile:
Mammals Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Juvenile
Birds Adult
Adult:
Insecta Adult
Isoptera (termites) Adult
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Sauria (lizards, skinks, iguana) Adult
Serpentes (snakes) Adult
Mammals Adult
Leporidae (rabbits, hares) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Adult
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Adult
Heteromyidae (pocket mice, kangaroo rats) Adult
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Adult
Muridae (Norway rat, house mouse) Adult
Birds Juvenile
Birds Adult

Comments on food habits: 
General: Small mammals, notably Microtus ochrogaster and M. pennsylvanicus, are important prey where abundant. Many and diverse spp. of birds are also prey *09,18,19,20*
Juvenile: Juveniles are fed prey or parts of prey by adults, and presumably many of the same spp. Juvenile food habits are those prey spp. considered important during breeding season *17,18,19,20*.
Adult: See comments on general food habits.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Human associations: see comments
  • Human associations: see comments
  • Unknown

Limiting:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments

Egg

  • Unknown

Feeding juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Human associations: see comments

Resting juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Human associations: see comments

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Human associations: see comments

Resting adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: crop field/grassland
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: subclimax grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland
  • Human associations: see comments
  • Human associations: see comments

Breeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Harriers breed in marshes and prairies among low shrubs, tall weeds, or reeds rather than very open areas *06*. Hunting occurs over fields, pastures, fallow areas. During migration this species may be found far from its typical habitat.
Feeding juvenile: Nestlings are fed in nest and are known to accompany parents to hunting grounds *06*.
Resting juvenile: Juveniles assumed to rest in nest: also may roost communally with adults during migration *06*.
Feeding adult: Fly low over open fields, pastures, prairies, etc. *06*.
Resting adult: Adults will perch on stumps, fence posts, ground and trees *06*. Roosting takes place on the ground in a form of flattened grasses or small mound scattered with droppings *06*.
Breeding adult: Breeding habitat - large portions of prairie or marshes - are probably limiting habitat in Ill. *08*. Commonly in areas sheltered by low shrubs, tall weeds or reeds rather than in very open surroundings *06*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01*.

Physical description: White rump patch is key identification character. Male pale gray, female streaked brown *02*. Long wings and tail. Length 16-24 in., wingspread 42 in. *02,03*. Female ave. wt.: 531 gm., male:350 gm. *04*.

Reproduction: Arrive in northeast U.S. By late March; males reach breeding grounds 5-10 days before female. Courtship: dives and swoops (25-70 ea.) near hunting or perched female; then mutual soaring, dives and swoops *06*. Nesting territory selected in late March (in Mich.) *07*. Females breed more often as yearling than males *11*. Polygamous males are reported in several studies (see table in *11*). Nesting season ranges (in Mich). .55-3.89 sq. mi. *07*. Intraspecific territoriality is apparently not strong *12*. Distance between nests is reported *12* to be 650-850 m. Ground nester, in marshes and prairies. Nests 1-18 in. high, 15-30 in. dia., taller nests built on wet ground. Usually, male gathers nest materials (sticks, grasses, hay), female builds nest *05,06,08,09*. In mid April to mid May, female lays 4-6 (usu. 5) eggs at 48 hr. intervals *06,07*. A second clutch may be laid if first is lost *06*, begun as soon as 8 days afterward *11*. Eggs are oval, smooth and dull white *05*. Incubation: begins with second to fourth egg, female alone, 24-31 days *05,06,10*. During incubation, and 10-14 days after hatching, male hunts for female; she might occassionally leave the nest to hunt. Male brings back prey and calls to female; she flies out to male, he drops prey and she catches it in midair. At nest, she tears prey into pieces for hatchlings and herself. After hatchlings are 2 wk. old, female brings more prey to nest than male. Parents (and older young) are aggressive towards humans and predators, especially other raptors, that approach nest site *06,10*. Young fly at 30-35 days *10*. They remain near nest for some time *06* and are fed by same "food pass" technique as nesting female.

Behavior: Roosts on ground. In winter, often communally; may roost with short-eared owl *07,10,11*. In a Mich. study *07*, individuals flew as far as 5 mi. from roost to separate hunting ranges. A bird may have several hunting areas, ea. from 30-40 acres to 1 sq. mi., within its daily range. Harrier hunts in low (10-30 ft. high) slow flights over pastures, marshes and fields. Flies for long periods in an unhurried combination of flapping and gliding *06,08,09*. Doesn't fly in wet weather *06*.

Limiting factors: Ground nesting makes the harrier's eggs and hatchlings susceptible to flooding, mammalian predators (e.g., mink, dog) and human activities (e.g., plowing). Mortality is especially high among juveniles: starvation and malnutrition (younger) and shooting (older) account for large numbers. Shooting is a cited source of adult mortality *07*. Eggshell thinning was reported in a 1970 study *13*.

Population parameters: Two studies *07,12* report 78% hatching, 89% fledging success and 2.3 young fledged/nest. Polygamy results in fewer young/ea. nesting female, but more young/breeding male with 3 or more females. Breeding population sex ratio in this study was 1.81:1 (female:male); nestling ratio was 1.16:1 *12*. First yr. mortality 60%, before maturity (presumably in second yr. *00*) 70%. Ave. lifespan for birds in wild reaching maturity 7 yr.; longevity 16 yr. A female may breed 6 or 7 consecutive yr. *06*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining early stage of ecological succession
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Preserving sensitive species habitat
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Controlling pollution
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Maintaining bogs
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Burning of wetlands to maintain successional stages
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Developing/maintaining riparian habitat
  • No-till farming
  • Retaining crop residue (over winter)
  • Grazing management to allow vegetative recovery
  • Periodically burning prairie areas
  • Develop/maintain prairie

Adverse:

  • Recreational development
  • Draining wetlands
  • Clean farming
  • Haying/mowing
  • Applying pesticide on agricultural land
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock
  • Strip mining
  • Mowing

Comments on management practices:
The northern harrier is protected under the Illinois Endangered Species Act, 1972 *02*, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 *15*, and the Illinois Wildlife Code, 1971 *21*. Also see comments on species- habitat interrelations.

 


REFERENCES

0. BUTCHER, M.K. 1984. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX. 156 P.

2. PETERSON, R. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4 ED. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 384 P.

3. ROBBINS, C., B. BRUUN AND H. ZIM. 1966. BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA. GOLDEN PRESS, NEW YORK. 340 P.

4. SNYDER, N.F.R. AND J.W. WILEY. 1976. SEXUAL SIZE DIMORPHISM IN HAWKS AND OWLS OF NORTH AMERICA. ORNITH. MONOGR. NO. 20. 96 P.

5. HARRISON, H.H. 1975. A FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS' NESTS. HOUGHTON-MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 257 P.

6. BROWN, L. AND D. AMADON. 1968. EAGLES, HAWKS AND FALCONS OF THE WORLD. VOL. 1 MCGRAW-HILL BOOK CO., NEW YORK. P. 1-414.

7. CRAIGHEAD, J.J. AND F.C. CRAIGHEAD, JR. 1956. HAWKS, OWLS AND WILDLIFE. THE STACKPOLE CO., HARRISBURG, PA. 443 P.

8. BOWLES, M.L., V.E. DIERSING, J.E. EBINGER AND H.C. SCHULTZ, EDS. 1981. ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE ANIMALS AND VASCULAR PLANTS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS DEPT. CONSERV. 189 P.

9. BENT, A.C. 1937. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS OF PREY. ORDER FALCONIFORMES (PART I). U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 167.

10. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

11. NEWTON, I. 1979. POPULATION ECOLOGY OF RAPTORS. BUTEO BOOKS, VERMILLION, SD. 399 P.

12. BALFOUR, E. AND C.J. CADBURY. 1979. POLYGYMY, SPACING AND SEX RATIO AMONG HEN HARRIERS CIRCUS CYANUS IN ORKNEY, SCOTLAND. ORNIS SCANDINAVICA 10:133-141.

13. ANDERSON, D.W. AND J.J. HICKEY. 1970. EGGSHELL CHANGES IN CERTAIN NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS, ED. K.H. VOOUS. PROC. [XVTH] INTER. ORNITH. CONGRESS, PP. 514-40. LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS: E.J. BRILL. IN TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

14. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1982. THIRTY-FOURTH SUPPLEMENT TO THE AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. SUPPLEMENT AUK 99(3).

15. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP. 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPEC. PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERV. ADMIN. OCT. 1.

16. WELLER, M.W., I.C. ADAMS JR. AND B.J. ROSE. 1955. WINTER ROOSTS OF MARSH HAWKS AND SHORT-EARED OWLS IN CENTRAL MISSOURI. WILSON BULL. 67(3):189-193.

17. CLARK, R.J. 1972. PELLETS OF THE SHORT-EARED OWL AND MARSH HAWK COMPARED. J. WILDL. MANAGE. 36(2):962-964.

18. ERRINGTON, P.L. AND W.J. BRECKENRIDGE. 1936. FOOD HABITS OF MARSH HAWKS IN THE GLACIATED PRAIRIE REGION OF NORTH-CENTRAL UNITED STATES. AMER. MIDL. NAT. 17(3):831-848.

19. CLARK, R.J. AND J.G. WARD. 1974. INTERSPECIFIC COMPETITION IN TWO SPECIES OF OPEN COUNTRY RAPTORS CIRCUS CYANUS AND ASIO FLAMMENS. PROC. PA. ACAD. SCI. 48:79-87.

20. FISHER, A.K. 1893. THE HAWK AND OWLS OF THE UNITED STATES. U.S.D.A. DIV. ORNITH. AND AGRIC. BULL. NO. 3. 210 P.

21. ILLINOIS DEPARMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE. ART. II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 120 PP.

 


 

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