© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Mervi Wahlroos. Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Hen Harrier

Circus cyaneus

  • Name also: Northern Harrier
  • Family: Hawks – Accipitridae
  • Appearance: Smaller than Marsh Harrier, with long wings and tail. Males are a gull-like grey in colouring, but females are generally brown.
  • Size: Length 42–55 cm (16–21 in), wingspan 97–118 cm (38–46 in), weight 285–630 g (11–25). Female larger, as in many other birds-of-prey.
  • Nest: Comparatively small, made of willow and birch twigs, and lined with grasses. Built on the ground in dense coppices or reed beds.
  • Breeding: 4–6 laid in May, incubated by female only for 29–30 days. Young birds able to fly within 30–35 days.
  • Distribution: Nests in pine mires near larger marshes and wetlands bogs, or alternatively on heather moors. On migration often seen over open farmland, shores or islands. Breeds mainly in northern regions, but also in Central Finland. Population estimated at 1,500–1,600 pairs.
  • Migration: Winters in Central and Southern Europe Flies south from August, though main autumn migration occurs Sept–Oct. Returns north from late March.
  • Diet: Mammals and birds.
  • Calls: Warning and mating call a quickfire “kvek-vek-vek-vek”. Female’s begging call a whining “piihi”.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected in Finland. European red list status Near threatened, globally Least concern.

Mature male Hen Harriers are a pale bluish grey in colour, with white bellies and extensive black areas on their wingtips. Females and juveniles have brown upperparts and streaked underparts, as well as white rumps (which distinguish them from Marsh Harriers). Their long wings and gangly appearance differentiate them from young Goshawks. Hen Harriers have yellow legs, and bluish beaks with black tips and yellow ceres. Mature males have orange-yellow irises; females’ irises are dull yellow; and juveniles have brown irises.

Hen Harriers can be hard to distinguish from the rarer Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, especially where females are concerned. The best features to look for are Hen Harriers’ shorter and wider primaries, long fifth primary and wider secondaries. They are also stockier in general build. Young Hen Harriers have streaked brown underparts, unlike the almost unmarked underparts of juvenile Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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