Northern Harrier

Circus approximans

Physical Description

The Pouakai, or Northern Harrier, is a medium-sized raptor with long, broad wings and a long tail. The male and female plumage differs significantly. Males have a greyish-brown colouration on their upper parts, a pale head, and a white rump. Conversely, females have a brown colouration overall, with streaks and bars on their underparts. They have a distinct facial disk and a hooked beak.

Habitat and Range

Northern Harrier are native to New Zealand and can be found in a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, and marshes. They prefer areas with low vegetation and open spaces for hunting. Pouakai are endemic to New Zealand and can be found on both the North and South Islands and some offshore islands.

Feeding Habits

Northern Harrier are diurnal birds of prey that primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice, rats, and rabbits. They have a specialised hunting technique known as "quartering," where they fly low over the ground in a back-and-forth pattern, searching for prey. They use their keen eyesight and hearing to locate and capture their targets.

Breeding and Nesting

Northern Harrier form monogamous pairs during the breeding season. They build nests on the ground, often concealed within tall grasses or other vegetation. The female lays a clutch of eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the chicks. Northern Harrier chicks are covered in down feathers when they hatch and depend on their parents for food and protection.

Conservation Status

The Northern Harrier is not currently classified as a threatened species. However, they face various conservation challenges, including habitat loss and degradation, predation by introduced mammals, and the use of pesticides that can affect their prey populations. Conservation efforts focus on protecting their habitats and raising awareness about their importance.

Trees and Plant Preferences

Northern Harrier are not specifically associated with particular tree species, as they primarily inhabit open habitats rather than forested areas. They rely on open grasslands and wetlands for hunting and foraging. However, they may use elevated perches such as fence posts or trees near their hunting grounds to survey the area and spot potential prey.

Interesting Facts

  • Northern Harrier are known for their unique hunting behaviour, where they fly low over the ground, often hovering briefly before diving down to capture their prey.
  • They have excellent hearing and can locate prey by sound alone, allowing them to hunt even in low-light conditions.
  • Northern Harrier are sometimes called "swamp harriers" due to their association with wetland habitats.
  • They have a distinctive flight style, with slow, buoyant wingbeats and a tilting motion as they glide low to the ground.
  • Northern Harrier are an important part of New Zealand's ecosystem, helping to control rodent populations and maintain the balance of their habitats.