A few weeks ago I observed and photographed an immature female Northern Harrier repeatedly harassing a Ring-necked Pheasant hen out on the marshes at Farmington Bay. I was a little farther away from the birds than I would have liked but I found the behavior of the harrier fascinating as she made what appeared to be several attacks on the pheasant hen.
Female immature Northern Harrier dive bombing a Ring-necked Pheasant hen – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/4000, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
I wondered why the young harrier would attempt to attack such a large bird because harriers usually hunt for smaller prey and my first instinct would be to wonder if the age and inexperience of the young harrier would make it go after larger prey than they usually take but I have seen adult Northern Harriers chasing after and harassing Ring-necked Pheasants in the area quite often.
I have begun to wonder if this is a learned behavior and by that I mean that pheasants are hunted at Farmington Bay and I am certain that some pheasants are injured but not collected by the hunters and that perhaps the harriers have learned to look out for injured pheasants to take them down and finish them off. They would get a high caloric benefit for little energy expenditure that way.
The Ring-necked Pheasant hen the immature Northern Harrier was after did not in this case appear to be injured, she seemed to be on the defense though as she flattened herself out on the ground.
Immature Northern Harrier female hovering over a Ring-necked Pheasant hen – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/4000, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
There were other pheasants in the area but the young female harrier only appeared to go after this hen pheasant. This pheasant and the others nearby could have flown away but they didn’t.
Female immature Northern Harrier with an eye on a pheasant hen – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/3200, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
After several unsuccessful attempts to take the pheasant hen down the immature female Northern Harrier flew off. These are only three of the images I took that showed both the hen pheasant and the harrier well as the action happened, most of the time the pheasant was nearly hidden in the grasses, in this photo only the tail feathers of the pheasant can be seen.
Birds do make life interesting.