Watching this beautiful creature hunting at day’s end, it was fascinating to see the Marsh Hawk hovering, suspended mid-air for moments at a time. With razor sharp focus it’s gaze did not swerve. He swooped down toward the tall grass and I lost sight of him after a brief, second long glance from the ground. I hope he caught his dinner!
When you see a hawk hunting, you can be sure it is a Northern Harrier Hawk, or Marsh Hawk, from the lateral band of white across the base of its tail feathers.
Marsh Hawk range map, note that Cape Ann and Plum Island are in their year-round range. In Massachusetts, they breed primarily along the coast and are regularly seen in coastal marshes in the winter. The Northern Harrier has experienced population declines through much of its North American range. Due to its dependence on rare and vulnerable habitats, the Marsh Hawk is listed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a species of national wildlife concern.
Marsh hawks gathered at night fall – a dozen or so Northern Harriers suddenly became visible, silhouetted against the orange sky, and seeming to hold a soiree of sorts.
Northern Harriers hunt during the day. They are the most owl-like of all hawks in that they hunt by sight and by sound. Northern Harriers even look a bit like Short-eared Owls.
Northern Harriers share the same habitat with Short-eared Owls. Skirmishes over territory between the two species often occur late in the day as the Harriers are settling in for the night and the Shorties are stepping out to hunt.