I recently had the opportunity to photograph one of Oklahoma’s most iconic raptors, the Northern Harrier, at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. I parked my car along the auto road that winds through the refuge’s wetlands and fields. At first I was focused on capturing images of the Wilson’s Snipes and Greater Yellowlegs that were feeding in the flooded fields. But every so often, a Northern Harrier would sail over the fields, putting the ducks and other waterfowl on high alert.

Northern Harrier On The Hunt

Northern Harrier On The Hunt

The Harrier is a slim, long-winged hawk that is designed for hunting over open areas. It flies low over the ground, using its owl-like facial discs to locate small mammals and birds by sound. Although I never witnessed this particular Harrier make a kill, I could tell by the panic it created that it was certainly capable of taking down ducks and other larger prey.

Soaring Northern Harrier In Flight

Soaring Northern Harrier In Flight

In fact, I later read that while Northern Harriers prefer to eat small mammals and birds they are able to catch on the wing, they have been known to prey on larger animals like rabbits and ducks. To take down larger prey, they must drown the animal after the initial capture. This fits with the Harrier’s unique hunting style, as they rarely perch-hunt and instead stay on the wing to hunt small game.

Northern Harrier Looking Toward Me

Northern Harrier Looking Toward Me While In Flight

Although I wasn’t able to capture the dramatic moment of a Harrier taking down a duck, I’m pleased with the in-flight images I was able to get. The Harrier’s owl-like face is beautifully visible as it banks and turns through the refuge skies. Photographing a skilled hunter like the Northern Harrier reminds me of the daily drama of life and death playing out all around us, often unseen. I feel privileged to have witnessed a glimpse into the harrier’s world.

Image Information (Last Image):

  • Date: 11/10/23
  • Time: 09:15 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R7
  • Lens: EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
  • ISO: 200
  • Aperture: 5.6
  • Shutter: 1/2000
  • Exp. Comp.: 0
  • Lens (mm): 400
  • Program Mode: Manual