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Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

One of the least common birds of prey breeding in New Hampshire is the Northern Harrier (formerly called Marsh Hawk). We suspect this ground-nester breeds only in scattered sites in the northernmost part of the state. Historically, Northern Harriers were restricted to freshwater and tidal marshes, beaver meadows, and other natural or human-made upland and lowland openings. Agricultural activity during the 1800s created a mosaic of fields and edges that turned many areas into potentially suitable harrier breeding and foraging habitat. However, over the last 150 years, much of the Granite State’s landscape has either been heavily impacted by developed or has become reforested. Additionally, intensive management of agricultural lands that remain have the potential to place nesting and foraging harriers at risk.

For several decades, NH Audubon has worked with New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHFG) to monitor harriers and look for productive nests. In the 1980s and 1990s, we conducted an August event called “Harrier Day” during which citizen science volunteers looked for fledglings in suitable habitat in Coos County. In 2008, harriers were reclassified in New Hampshire as state-listed endangered due to their low population and minimal evidence of breeding success. Recently, NH Audubon resumed work on the state’s breeding harriers to gather information useful to NHFG and other state and federal wildlife managers. Our primary goals have been to document current harrier breeding distribution and monitor reproductive outcomes, primarily in their stronghold in Coos County.

In collaboration with NHFG, NH Audubon is developing habitat management guidelines for wet meadow and scrub-shrub habitat as well as for hayfield/grassland habitat to promote harrier breeding success. This management advice needs to be shared with local landowners if we are going to preserve harriers as a breeding species in northern New Hampshire. We need to protect, enhance, and create more mixed-age fields as nesting habitat for harriers, especially in proximity to high-quality foraging habitat. State and private lands can be managed to have a variety of field age conditions, ensuring that some fields will be the appropriate age for nesting harriers.

Northern Harrier monitoring in New Hampshire is supported in part by funding from NH Fish & Game. NH Audubon is seeking additional support to further enhance harrier management efforts.


Project Leader: Chris Martin

Links and Articles of Interest

Harriers Holding On in Coos (NH Audubon Winter 2023-24 Afield)

Juvenile Northern Harriers, by Katrina Fenton
Ideal Northern Harrier breeding habitat, by Chris Martin

Photos, from the top: adult male Northern Harrier, by Kameko Walker; circle image by Jack Dorsey.