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Northern harrier

- The winter hawk of the bog
Northern harrier, © Biopix SD Lund
The northern harrier can be difficult to distinguish from its close relative, the Montagu's harrier. The northern harrier is a very rare breeding bird, but is a fairly common migratory and winter guest. When the Montagu's harrier migrates south in the winter, you can be pretty sure that if you see a blue-grey hawk with black wing tips in winter, it is the northern harrier. If you see it in the summer, it is probably a Montagu's harrier. In the spring and autumn, you will probably have to get hold of your binoculars and bird book if you want to tell the two species apart. The male Montagu's Harrier has a black stripe on the wing, which the northern harrier is missing. The females resemble each other greatly because they are both brown with distinctive white areas at the top of the tail (upper rump).
The northern harrier has always been a very rare breeding bird in Denmark.  There are only sometimes one or two breeding pairs in South Jutland. It breeds primarily in large undisturbed meadows and reed bed areas.
The northern harrier is slightly smaller than the buzzard. It is 47 cm long and has a wingspan of 100-120 cm. When hovering over the reed beds, it holds its wings in a clear V-shape. The male is blue-grey with black wing tips, females and young are brown with white upper rump. It feeds on mice and small rodents and can also catch small birds. The species is fairly widespread in Europe, where most of the breeding pairs are prevalent in North Scandinavia as well as France, Spain and the British Isles.