A pair of Northern Harrier Hawks (Hen Harriers or Marsh Hawks) pass food to each in an amazing aerial acrobatic display! Harriers (Circus cyaneus) fly low over the vast expanse of St Johns River Marshland in central Florida searching for prey they catch on the wing. Harrier's faces look a lot like owls and indeed they are one of the few hawks that use their hearing to hear and catch prey in the grass below. This mid-air feeding of the female is typical breeding behavior where the male feeds the female - except that Northern Harriers have not been documented breeding in Florida (see below) so I'm not exactly sure what is going on!
The Northern Harrier, formerly named the Marsh Hawk, breeds throughout much of Canada, the western and northwestern United States, and Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Habitat. The nest is placed on vegetation close to or on the ground, usually in a marsh. Three or 4 pale bluishwhite eggs are incubated 31 to 32 days, and young fledge in 30 to 35 days (Ehrlich et al. 1988).
Northern harriers feed on rodents, small birds, snakes, frogs, and large insects, which they startle or flush as they slowly quarter back and forth a few feet above the vegetation in old fields, pastures, and marshes.
Seasonal Occurrence. In the Big Bend region, Northern Harriers show a definite decrease between May and
June and increase again in July and August; these birds are termed migrants. Layne and Douglas (1976) reviewed a number of midsummer records of Northern Harriers in the extensive
prairie and improved pasture areas in south-central Florida and described them as summer residents or early fall migrants.
Status. The Northern Harrier is an abundant wintering species throughout most of Florida, but a rare summer resident. Howell (1932) reported that it "breeds sporadically in northern Florida" and described 3 nests; 1 on Orange Lake (Marion County) and 1 each at Micanopy and Paynes Prairie (Alachua County) all in the early year of this century. Layne and Douglas (1976) found no evidence of breeding for this species. Likewise, no records of confirmed
breeding were found during the Atlas period. The 4 "possible" and 3 "probable" records in north and central Florida leave unanswered the question, "Are Northern Harriers breeding in Florida"?
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