"Marks of Identification"

Northern Harrier

        I lost a dear friend today. I will miss this friend as will the birds in my yard. My friend was getting old and tired (oh dear, that sounds like me). Anyway, this friend has gone to the great beyond (beyond my yard). My friend, Cottonwood Tree, has been cut down and taken to a nearby yard to be northern Harrier hawkused as energy in our neighbor's fireplace. The small limbs and leaves were ground up for compost to enrich the earth. This was a great ending of a wonderful, friendly, hospitable, old, but beautiful tree.

        As we were coming home in the late afternoon, a swift, familiar silhouette sped through the air space of our pasture. Not a flicker of a wing disturbed the arrow flight of this raptor who was focused on catching prey. It flew right through the open area where the Cottonwood used to stand. There was just enough time to see the identifying white rump patch of a Northern Harrier. The Northern Harrier can be very hard to identify unless you see the white rump patch. Adult males are gray on top, lighter below and black wingtips. Females are a rich brown above and varying brown and buff streaking below. Juveniles are brown above and a plain orange-brown below. A bird book will save you hours of pondering. Peterson’s Field Guide is a great book to point out marks of identification.

        Harriers are the hawks you see flying low over marshes and fields. Unlike most hawks, they use their sense of hearing to locate prey, have soft feathers for a quieter flight, and are able to pick up a meal very efficiently. Frequently people ask how to stop hawk attacks at bird feeders. Our answer: This is nature’s way of keeping bird flocks healthy. Raptors are like wolves with feathers, picking off the sick and injured. Enjoy the birds in your yard, but be aware that wolves prowl the skies to keep the flocks alert and healthy. Watch for the Northern Harrier in open marsh-like areas, and look for the white rump patch.

        If you want to learn more about birds, come to the Red Cliffs Audubon General Meeting on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 7:00 p.m. at the Tonaquint Nature Center, 1851 South Dixie Dr. in St. George. For more information about Harriers, or just to talk about birds, call Marilyn Davis at 435 673-0996. The Northern Harrier was painted by Keith Davis. " Thank you Honey!"   

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