Last week, I drove to the Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam near Sallisaw, Oklahoma. It is a fantastic spot to capture pictures of birds catching shad below the dam during winter.

A Scenic Walk Along the Arkansas River

I enjoy walking on a dirt road that runs east beside the Arkansas River, below the dam. While walking on this road, I spotted an immature female Northern Harrier flying low over a small field just east of the parking lot on the south side of the dam. Though the poor lighting conditions made it difficult to photograph the bird in flight as I was mostly facing the sun, I managed to take some decent shots of the bird.

A Hunting Immature Female Northern Harrier Near Kerr Dam

A Hunting Immature Female Northern Harrier Near Kerr Dam (Larger Image)

A Glimpse into the Harrier’s World

It was fascinating to see how the bird paid no attention to me and was busy looking for prey in the tall grass. To avoid startling the Harrier, I stepped off the road and got into the ditch, hoping to keep a lower profile.

The Harrier eventually flew further east to another field, and I decided not to follow her. Though I was not able to get the best shots, I was still happy to see the bird up close. The pictures I took were just a pleasant addition.

An Immature Female Northern Harrier Gliding Low

An Immature Female Northern Harrier Gliding Low (Larger Image)

Winter Wonders of the Northern Harrier

During the winter months, the Northern Harrier exhibits several unique behaviors and characteristics. They hunt for small rodents by gliding low over wetlands or open fields, using a combination of keen eyesight and hearing to detect prey. Their flight is characterized by intermittent flapping and sharp turns.

These medium-sized raptors have long, broad wings and a long, rounded tail, with females being larger and brown. They have a flat, owl-like face that aids in their hearing, which is crucial for hunting in winter when visual cues may be less reliable due to shorter days and potential ground cover.

Northern Harriers are “leapfrog migrants,” meaning individuals from northern breeding populations winter farther south than those from southern breeding populations. This could mean that the female I saw may have traveled from a more northern region to spend the winter in Oklahoma.

Female Northern Harrier Hunting Over Field

Immature Female Northern Harrier Hunting Over Field (Larger Image)

Insights into Their Winter Lifestyle

During the winter, their diet consists mostly of small mammals and birds, but they are capable of taking larger prey like rabbits and geese. They may also adapt their hunting strategies in winter, sometimes subduing larger animals by drowning them.

Conservation Concerns

The Northern Harrier is considered endangered in some states due to habitat loss and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Image Information (First Image):

  • Date: 12/10/23
  • Time: 11:19 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 2500
  • Aperture: 8
  • Shutter: 1/3200
  • Exp. Comp.: 0
  • Lens (mm): 500
  • Program Mode: Manual