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Starving Raptors

Posted on Mar 11, 2015

These photos are of a Northern Harrier on the hunt, swooping over grasslands and fields in search of small mammal prey. While I took these shots mere days ago this type of predatory behavior in itself has been a bit more scarce than usual this winter. Birds of prey, including owls and various hawks, have had a very difficult time finding food during the historically cold and very snowy conditions.

Northern Harrier hunting March-0131

Needing more calories than ever to survive in this weather they have had very little to find, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reports there has been a high mortality rate. NYS DEC biologists have also had a tough time finding Short-eared Owls in many typical wintering locations. Other agencies and organizations have seen the same with raptors.

Northern Harrier hunting March-0134

Species like the Northern Harrier have turned to other means to feed, including feasting on birds – even dead waterfowl – and taking prey as a falcon would, like European Starlings! Scoping out a Harrier sitting on a deceased duck on some ice is a surreal sight. Birds are so adept at adapting, and sometimes we label them as doing X and avoiding Y bit too often for our own good. There is always more to learn in the avian world.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator