A juvenile female Northern Harrier – The eyes have it

Female juvenile Northern Harrier flyingFemale juvenile Northern Harrier flying – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 235mm, natural light, not baited

A few days ago my friend Jerry Liguori posted an article on his blog called “Juvenile Harrier eyes” where he discussed the eye colors of juvenile males and females and briefly touched on the differences in their plumage.  I have been hesitant to ID juvenile harriers because I don’t really relish being wrong. On his post I made this comment:

Brilliant images Jerry, I admit I have had some confusion over the eye color of harriers and sexing juveniles. I just don’t do it!

Female juvenile Northern Harrier in flightFemale juvenile Northern Harrier in flight – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 214mm, natural light, not baited

So… I am sticking my neck out here and identifying this Northern Harrier as a juvenile female and if I am wrong please don’t hesitate to tell me so. Being wrong and studying the differences more carefully is a way to learn and I do want to learn to feel confident more about identifying juvenile harriers.

When I spotted this harrier she was on the top of a creek bank and I wasn’t sure why she kept circling over the same area. After photographing her for a period of time in flight she landed on a post down the road for a bit. I was reviewing my images on my LCD screen and when I looked up the harrier had left the post and then I saw her down on the frozen creek with a dead duck (I am fairly sure about that) and knew why she had kept flying over the same spot. I’d love to know if she killed the duck or if another raptor killed it.

Eye color can be used to sex juvenile Northern Harriers, brown for juvenile females and yellowish for the males and this harrier is a definite brown-eyed beauty.


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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.


  1. I didn’t know about the difficulty in ID in this situation. Mia, have you seen harriers actually prey on ducks? Or do they usually find duck remains killed by other predators or humans?

  2. I love winter here in central Florida because I get to enjoy watching Harriers for awhile! As soon as I saw your first image, Mia, I threw my camera away. I’ll just be content to admire them from afar…..and from your photographs!

  3. Beautiful flight shots. I wonder if the eyes are different in our harriers, so will have to look more carefully next time I visit Werribee.

  4. Pingback: Avian Explorer » Blog Archive » Northern Harrier

  5. there is something magical about harriers and you’ve captured it perfectly.

  6. Beautiful and informative. And thanks for the link to Jerry Liguori’s blog — also interesting with lots of photos.

  7. STUNNING. 1st image looks 100% like a painting.

    Got buzzed by a harrier once, and it left a very strong impression of a dish-shaped face.
    Very owl-like.

    I extra-heart a bird you can ID 1/4 mile away, due to BRIGHT WHITE fanny. =)

    Thanks for the eyeball color hint re: sex. Interesting.

  8. Your images are always spectacular. I think I probably forget the ‘details’ on sex/age because I am so engrossed with the perfection of your captures.

  9. Education and beauty. Thank you.

  10. A beauty either way! I bet it is fun and a challenge to ID them by eye color. I learned something today, thanks!

  11. Interesting information re eye color…In fact I got introduced and hooked on your and Ron’s blogs through researching eye color changes in juvenile and adult eagfes, Also enjoy Jerry Liguori’s blog. After a couple of years of searching, I finally got the answer I was looking for from Ron… and have happily passed it on to anyone interested. You guys are like the pebble in the pool theory…you have no idea how many people you entertain and inform.

  12. Thanks for referencing me Mia! GREAT SHOTS!

    Eye color is accurate, so no worries in sexing this one. A few juvs have an in-between eye color (but that is rare). The underwing pattern has been referenced in the past for sexing juvs, but that is the inaccurate way I was referring to in my blog.
    Thanks, and always love seeing your photos

  13. and a beauty she is! Thanks.

  14. Mia, awesome captures of the Harrier in flight! Happy Birding!

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