Northern Harrier Hunting in Johnson’s Pasture

In the winter, you can often see Northern Harriers in the Wilderness Park. Unlike other hawks that hunt from on high, these unusual hawks fly very low over the ground, looking and listening for rodents. They have a disk-shaped face looks and functions much like an owl’s, with stiff facial feathers helping to direct sound to the ears, and they rely on hearing as well as vision to capture prey.

Last week one was hunting in Johnson’s Pasture and stayed in the same area for more than an hour, allowing your intrepid photographer to snap enough photos that some of them came our more or less in focus.

Here you can see how close they fly to the ground at times.

The Northern Harrier flying very low over the side of Johnson’s Pasture Road. ©Nancy Hamlett.

In the Wilderness Park, you can often look down on them and spot the distinctive white patch on the rump.

The Northern Harrier flying low showing its white rump patch while a cyclist rides by on Webb Canyon Road. ©Nancy Hamlett.

This Northern Harrier must have been a female, as the females are brown above (males are grayish) and pale with brown streaks below.

Another view of the Northern Harrier hunting showing the brown color above and the distinctive white rump patch. ©Nancy Hamlett.

If you see one of these in the Park, take a few minutes to watch it. They’re awesome! They’re not likely to be here too much longer for this year. Although some are sighted in LA County throughout the year, most of the Northern Harriers migrate to the very northern US and Canada for the summer.

For more information on Northern Harriers, check out All About Birds.