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Northern harriers are flying south

Note the V-pattern flight pattern of a northern harrier. Photo by Larry Weber

During September, many of us take advantage of the closeness of Hawk Ridge to observe the fall migration of birds. We are fortunate to have a site nearby that allows us excellent views into the surrounding autumn.

Here, with a background of the colorful fall foliage, we can watch the season changing right there with us. Though most of us go to see the movement of the southbound raptors, there are plenty of other migrants coming by, too. The flight of songbirds is easily seen now and flocks of sparrows, blackbirds and warblers come by constantly.

But it is called Hawk Ridge, and that is what most of us go there to see. We are seldom disappointed. Easiest to see and a daily appearance is that of the sharp-shinned hawks.

The little falcons, kestrels and merlins, are often seen here, as are the larger buteos: red-tailed, rough-legged and broad-winged hawks.

While the red-tailed can be seen for weeks, the rough-legged is a late migrant. It is the broad-winged hawk that migrates over in huge flocks, maybe in the thousands, flying extremely high. Whatever raptors that we want to observe, Hawk Ridge will likely give us the opportunity to see them.

Another raptor that I like to see and usually do so at this time is the northern harrier. Formerly called the marsh hawk, they are a regular part of the raptor migration as seen from the ridge. Not classified as accipiters, buteos or falcons, they are listed in their own group.

Now called the northern harrier, they are mid-sized as a raptor — about 16-20 inches long with a wingspan of 38-48 inches. Adult males are mostly white-gray, while females are largely brown.

Breeding in northern United States and Canada, they are a bird of the wetlands. Out in these open sites, they hunt and nest, on or near the ground. Unlike many other raptors, they search by flying in slow-moving, often circular patterns over their hunting grounds.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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