Northern Harrier

Has anyone ever seen a Northern Harrier inside city limits–I mean in a residential and commercial area of a fairly large city? I’m trying to identify a bird I saw in King East, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, but I didn’t get it on camera.

It was a prey bird; I know this because the grackles and starlings were terribly upset about it and chattered with much agitation for about ten minutes after it was gone. Also, the fledgling birds and young squirrels left the nest this week, which seems to attract prey birds of various types.

This bird was much larger than the common grackle. I’ve looked at various prey birds that I know are in the area but none of them fit the shape of this bird as I remember it. I think the Northern Harrier in flight resembles it. Is that possible?

1 Like

During migration maybe, but now all harriers stay on breeding grounds, so large open spaces, not much to eat for them in cities and their hunting style don’t fit them, not sure small birds would be so upset about it, they usually not care about harriers, it sounds more like a hawk was there, which is more dangerous for them, so gets more alarms. If you could desribe the bird you saw, I’m sure other Canadian users could help you, did it have hanging legs, how it flew, what was the wing shape?

I did not see enough details to answer your questions. It was approximately 6:00 PM on June 2. I did not see it long enough to determine its flying pattern. I live in a six story building. I was right by the wall of the building and saw it against the sky between the wall and the trees. It was just above the trees and top of the building. I did not see it long enough to focus the camera.

A combination of about four grackles and starlings, flew alongside its head and shoulders as though escorting it out of their airspace. It was much larger than the common grackles, as in five or ten or twenty times the size of a grackle. Afterward, the entire population of starlings and grackles was very agitated and assembled in neighbouring trees to express their agitation. This went on for an estimated five or ten minutes.

Cooper’s Hawks seems the most likely. Females are the same size as a Northern Harrier, and similar in color. They prey on birds and the occasional small mammal, so the behavior of the local birds fits too. Harriers are more specialized on small mammals, so usually don’t upset birds as much.

1 Like

If you saw the silhouette you can compare it to Accipiter’s and Buteo that you have, it could be one of the two genera or a larger raptor, but here birds especially hate goshawks/sparrowhawks as they specialize in bird prey.

1 Like

I looked at Cooper’s Hawk, which listed Sharp-shinned hawk as a similar species. I like Sharp-shinned hawk for colour and shape, habitat, etc., but it’s a lot smaller than I had thought the bird was. I know my memory is not perfect for things like this. Unless I see the bird again, I will probably not ever know for sure what I had seen. Your answers have been helpful. Thank you.

Look into a goshawk, it looks huge when you see it.

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned are both relatively common in Kitchener, and both can be found in urban areas, from your description it sounds like it was probably one of those (Northern Goshawk would be a bit rare). The two are very difficult to tell apart unless you know exactly which field marks to look for and whether the bird is an adult or juvenile - there is a good guide here if you want to prepare in case you see it again:

The size difference can be helpful, although difficult to judge without a good point of reference, and keep in mind that females are larger than males so a female Sharp-shinned can be the size of a male Cooper’s.

They often stay around the same area so maybe you’ll get to see it again!

1 Like

This bird certainly meets all the “markers” I specified, especially the juvenile at But I think I will have to see it again to be sure. Thanks so much for your input, Marina. I appreciate it very much and made a note of the scientific names you gave me because iNat says these answers will be deleted two months after the last answer. That means I cannot come back and check things out.

Oh, no, topic will be closed after no further answers, but it also can be reopened and nothing will be deleted!

I copied your note so I have it for future reference. Thanks so much!

I think it was a Cooper’s Hawk. I found a YouTube that shows a Cooper’s Hawk in flight ( At about Second 34 the wings look pretty much like what I saw.

I see Northern Harriers about once a month in deep southern Ontario, which is one of the most heavily developed areas in Canada. I do spend a lot of time outdoors, but almost every time I have seen one, they have been hunting in farm fields. I live in suburbs, with a mix of homes and farms, and even some forest, which they may like.

I should note that the Northern Harrier is one of the more rare birds, as I actually see Bald Eagles, Cooper’s Hawks, and Red-Tailed Hawks much more often. Also, they are only seen monthly at select times of year. Although possible, you likely did see another type of raptor. Northern Harriers can be easily identified with their odd, owl-like head.