Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Circus cyaneus


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Circus cyaneus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Snyder, S. A. 1993. Circus cyaneus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: 18 July 2013: DeGraaf, Richard M.; Rudis, Deborah D. 2001 citation corrected to DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 2001. ABBREVIATION : CICY COMMON NAMES : northern harrier marsh hawk blue hawk white-rumped harrier cinereous harrier frog hawk TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for northern harrier is Circus cyaneus Linneaus [1]. There are three subspecies of northern harrier, but only one of these, C. cyaneus ssp. hudsonius (Linnaeus), inhabits North America [16]. ORDER : Falconiformes CLASS : Bird FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : See OTHER STATUS OTHER STATUS : The northern harrier declining due to draining of wetlands, livestock grazing, flooding, and monocultural farming [11,15]. It is noted on The Blue List as down or greatly down throughout most of its range [24]. It is state-listed as endangered in Rhode Island and Illinois and threatened in Massachusetts [5,22,23].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Circus cyaneus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The northern harrier has a circumpolar distribution. In North America, it is found from north Alaska east across Canada to the Atlantic Coast, and south to Mexico [8,16]. It breeds from the northernmost part of its range through the central states, and winters in the southern states. Some populations are year-round residents [16]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES32 Texas savanna FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K023 Juniper - pinyon woodland K038 Great Basin sagebrush K039 Blackbrush K048 California steppe K049 Tule marshes K050 Fescue - wheatgrass K055 Sagebrush steppe K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna K063 Foothills prairie K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K068 Wheatgrass - grama - buffalograss K069 Bluestem - grama prairie K072 Sea oats prairie K073 Northern cordgrass prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K077 Bluestem - sacahuista prairie K078 Southern cordgrass prairie K079 Palmetto prairie K080 Marl - everglades K081 Oak savanna K084 Cross Timbers K086 Juniper - oak savanna K087 Mesquite - oak savanna K088 Fayette prairie K092 Everglades K105 Mangrove K114 Pocosin SAF COVER TYPES : 16 Aspen 63 Cottonwood 74 Cabbage palmetto 105 Tropical hardwoods 106 Mangrove 217 Aspen 238 Western juniper 239 Pinyon - juniper SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY PLANT COMMUNITIES : Northern harriers inhabit wetland plant communities of sedge (Carex spp.), rush (Juncus spp.), reed (Phragmites spp.), bulrush (Scirpus spp.), willow (Salix spp.), and tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) [6,16].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Circus cyaneus
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Age of Maturity - 1 year Mating/Nesting - March through June beginning in the south and moving north; can mate for life, but sometimes males are polygamous; can nest 4 pairs/sq mile in good habitat Clutch - 4 to 6 eggs Incubation - 24 to 39 days Fledge - 30 to 35 days Life Span - 12 years Migration - move north beginning in February; move south by late November [7,9,16] PREFERRED HABITAT : Northern harriers prefer sloughs, wet meadows, marshlands, swamps, prairies, plains, grasslands, and shrublands [8]. They nest on the ground, usually near water, or in tall grass, open fields, clearings, or on the water. In the latter case, nests are built on a stick foundation, willow clump, or sedge tussock [8]. Northern harriers prefer low perches such as fence posts or stumps. For hunting, they use large forest openings. They occur from sea level to 10,400 feet (3,200 m) in elevation [17]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Northern harriers need open, low woody or herbaceous vegetation for nesting and hunting [8]. Harriers usually nest adjacent to hunting grounds and where nest predation is low. Their food base should be within 11.2 miles (18 km) of their nests [21]. They use disproportionate amounts of rank grasses, sedges (Carex spp.), willows (Salix spp.), goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and nettle (Urtica spp.) for nest building relative to the abundance of those plant genera [16]. In Massachusetts, northern harriers nest in mixed stands of shining sumac (Rhus copallina), Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana), pasture rose (R. carolina), northern arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum), and highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) [5]. FOOD HABITS : The primary prey base of northern harriers is meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) [8,16]. They also eat a variety of amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates when these food sources are abundant [16]. Other prey includes hares (Lepus spp.), rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.), shrews (Sorex spp.), ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), lesser prairie chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), passerine birds, and occasional carion [7,14,16]. PREDATORS : Predators of northern harriers include red fox (Vulpes vulpes), striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), feral cats (Felis domesticus), mink (Mustela vison), and ravens, crows, and magpies (Corvids) [21]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Northern harrier nests are often trampled by grazing cattle. Suggestions for limiting livestock impact on nesting success include: fence off nesting areas from livestock, provide more watering sites to prevent congestion near nests, and reduce stocking rates [3]. Livestock grazing and haying can also reduce the small mammal population on which northern harriers depend [6].


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Circus cyaneus
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Fires during the nesting season can destroy northern harrier nests [18]. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Fires can open up grasslands and expose prey for northern harriers [2]. However, northern harriers were not observed following prescribed fires in a dry prairie grassland in Florida. The authors admit that counts for large birds may have been underestimated. Fires were conducted in January and again in late June. After the June fire, total bird abundance for all species was lower on the burned site than on the unburned control [12]. Prescribed fire in North Dakota destroyed three of four northern harrier nests, while one nest hatched following the fire [18]. No nests were initiated afterwards. Burning was conducted in mid-June using a backfire on the downwind side followed by flank fires, and a headfire across the upwind side. To determine the effects on small mammal populations, fires were prescribed on Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, where northern harriers are abundant [6]. Fires in early November removed cover and immediately reduced the small mammal population. However, small mammals returned to burned sites the first and second postfire years. There was an increase in small mammal numbers to above preburn levels during the second postfire year, but this might have been due to above-average winter temperatures. Three years following prescribed burning in Wyoming, northern harriers were not found on unburned plots or on plots burned in early June. Northern harriers were found, however, on plots burned in late August. Small mammal densities were high on the August-burned plots, and raptors were observed preying upon the mammals. The prescribed burning involved two fires, both conducted in a mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana) community. The first fire, set in early June, resulted in patches of completely burned, partially burned, and unburned areas. Plant cover on plots burned in June was 50 percent lower than on control plots at the first postfire year. Cover was 79 percent of the control by the third postfire year. The second fire was set in late August, and all living and dead vegetation was consumed. Cover on August-burned was 82 percent less than on control plots at the first postfire year, and 54 percent of control plots by the second postfire year. FIRE USE : When considering controlled burning in wetland areas with ground nesting northern harriers, it is best to either leave partial burns or conduct burning after young have fledged in order to maximize recruitment of this species [18]. FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".


WILDLIFE SPECIES: Circus cyaneus
REFERENCES : 1. American Ornithologists' Union. 2004. The A.O.U. check-list of North American birds, 7th edition, [Online]. American Ornithologists' Union (Producer). Available: [2005, January 10]. [50863] 2. Baker, R. H. 1940. Effects of burning and grazing on rodent populations. Journal of Mammalogy. 21: 223. [2849] 3. Benson, Patrick C. 1979. Land use and wildlife with emphasis on raptors. [Ogden, UT]: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Region. 32 p. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. [17208] 4. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 5. Dusek, G. L. 1975. Vegetational responses by substrate, gradient, and aspect on a twelve acre test plot in the Bull Mountains. In: Clark, W. F., ed. Proceedings of the Fort Union Coal Field symposium; [Date unknown]; [Location unknown]. Billings, MT: Montana Academy of Sciences: 233-246. [21509] 6. Cornely, J. E.; Britton, C. M.; Sneva, F. A. 1983. Manipulation of flood meadow vegetation and observations on small mammal populations. Prairie Naturalist. 15: 16-22. [14509] 7. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21385] 8. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Scott, Virgil E.; Hamre, R. H.; [and others]. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. Agric. Handb. 688. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 625 p. [15856] 9. DuBois, Kristi; Becker, Dale; Thornbrugh, Joe. 1987. Identification of Montana's birds of prey. Montana Outdoors. 18(6): 11-31. [3606] 10. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 11. Finch, Deborah M. 1992. Threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species of terrestrial vertebrates in the Rocky Mountain Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-215. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 38 p. [18440] 12. Fitzgerald, Susan M.; Tanner, George W. 1992. Avian community response to fire and mechanical shrub control in south Florida. Journal of Range Management. 45(4): 396-400. [18808] 13. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 14. Haukos, David A.; Broda, Gerald S. 1989. Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) predation of lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus). Journal of Raptor Research. 23(4): 182-183. [18135] 15. Herkert, James R. 1991. Study suggests increases in restored prairie fragments to conserve breeding bird communities (Illinois). Restoration & Management Notes. 9(2): 107. [17575] 16. Johnsgard, Paul A. 1990. Hawks, eagles, and falcons. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 403 p. [21510] 17. Kochert, Michael N. 1986. Raptors. In: Cooperrider, Allan Y.; Boyd, Raymond J.; Stuart, Hanson R., eds. Inventory and monitoring of wildlife habitat. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Denver Service Center: 313-349. [13527] 18. Kruse, Arnold D.; Piehl, James L. 1986. The impact of prescribed burning on ground-nesting birds. In: Clambey, Gary K.; Pemble, Richard H., eds. The prairie: past, present and future: Proceedings, 9th North American prairie conference; 1984 July 29 - August 1; Moorhead, MN. Fargo, ND: Tri-College University Center for Environmental Studies: 153-156. [3561] 19. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 20. McGee, John Michael. 1976. Some effects of fire suppression and prescribed burning on birds and small mammals in sagebrush. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 114 p. Dissertation. [16998] 21. Simmons, Robert; Smith, P. C. 1985. Do northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) choose nest sites adaptively?. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 63: 494-498. [21508] 22. Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 1994. Massachusetts list of endangered, threatened, and special concern species. Boston, MA: Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. 23 p. [23006] 23. Herkert, J. R., ed. 1992. Endangered and threatened species of Illinois: status and distribution. Volume 2--Animals. Springfield, IL: Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board. 142 p. [23799] 24. Tate, James, Jr. 1986. The Blue List for 1986. American Birds. 40(2): 227-235. [24324]