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Birds of the Western Slope December 2, 2015

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Photo by Dollar Photo Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

I've been watching the horses and sheep in the pasture across the road. It's a lovely day, doesn't look like November at all. Clear blue sky without a single cloud and the trees all dull looking, losing their leaves. A flock of starlings just "fell" out of our west cottonwood tree. They do seem to fall out of the trees, but now they've gathered up again and are headed for the reservoir. And it's time to do the breakfast dishes.

But wait! There's a large bird flying low over the pasture ... the wings are tilted upwards and I can see the white rump patch. A harrier? We've often had a pair down at the reservoir. Watch. Now my bird flies over the fence to the west, across the lane, and it disappears over to that pasture. Out of sight.

Now think: what did I see? Clearly a raptor from its size (over 15 inches, wingspan about 40 inches), whitish beneath and brownish above. Female harriers are brownish while males are gray. So, I probably saw a female northern harrier. As is often the case with raptors, the females are larger than the males. Why? Various theories include that the smaller male can fly after prey in tighter situations. And the heavier female can protect the nest better than the smaller male.

I'll check their diet in my Birder's Handbook. And there's always infor-mation that I forgot! I recalled about the voles, mice, snakes and carrion, but I forgot about other birds and insects. These birds are monogamous (more or less!) and the handbook states that with high vole populations there is evidence of polygynous mating. I remembered that the female feeds and broods the chicks, but I'd forgotten that she excludes the male from feeding areas during the non-breeding season.

I'm still looking out the north window, and here she comes ... the wings seem to barely move ... but I know that her progress is rapid.

Cranes have been reported. Keep your eyes and ears open. Please call my number (835-8391) if you see or hear them. THANKS!

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Surface Creek
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Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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