Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

A magnificent raptor

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird identification Updated: March 7, 2013 - 4:40 PM

This female Harrier (sometimes called Marsh Hawk) was photographed recently at The Raptor Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. The photos are offered simply because this is such a beautiful species, and I had an unusual photo opportunity. This is a captive bird, a member of the Center's bird team that makes educational visits to classrooms. The hawk was not caged, instead tethered to a perch that allowed me to work from about 10 feet away. In my experience it's difficult to get a good photo of this species perched anywhere, much less so close. The bird calmly accepted about five minutes of photography as my guide for the visit patiently waited for me to finish. The Harrier has a ruff around its face, much like an owl. It serves the hawk as it does the owl, helping to capture sounds made by prey; harriers hunt both by eye and ear. One photo caught the bird turning quickly. The hawk's long legs are evident. The literature I consulted did not mention whether or not the legs are an adaptation to the Harrier's hunting style -- slow flight low above grassland or marsh, capture made by a quick drop and grab. The bird is aerodynamically constructed to allow slow flight that often includes hovering. When prey -- small mammal, birds, amphibians -- is found the long legs can't hurt.

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