New York Natural Heritage Program
Northern Harrier
Circus cyaneus (Linnaeus, 1766)

Threats [-]
One of the most significant threats to Northern Harrier populations in New York is the loss of suitable grassland habitat. Economic factors have affected the viability of farms in New York. Many farmers have intensified their farming practices, converted hayfields to row crops, or abandoned farming altogether (Andrle and Carroll 1988, Post 2005). Remaining hayfields are often mowed earlier and more frequently to increase production. As a result, the mortality rate of young in those fields is high and sometimes adults are killed during mowing. As farms are abandoned they are lost to development or the land reverts to shrublands and forests. Grasslands are becoming more scattered and isolated thereby reducing connectivity (Post 2005). Another significant threat to Northern Harriers is the loss of wetland habitat by draining, dredging, and filling marshes (Evers 1992 cited in NatureServe 2003). New York State has lost over half of its wetlands since colonization (Tiner 1984 cited in NatureServe 2003). More recently, losses of wetlands in the Lake Plains portion of the state have been offset as agricultural lands revert back to wetlands, although net losses of wetlands in the Hudson Valley continue. Emergent marshes, which constitute only five percent of the state's 2.5 million acres, have declined overall. Equally important, the quality of remaining habitat is often degraded by fragmentation, exotic plants, and nutrient enrichment (Riexinger, personal communication, October 31, 2003). Ditching of salt marshes for mosquito control may have negative effects on breeding populations (Serrentino and England 1989).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices [-]
Large areas of open habitat in breeding and wintering areas need to be maintained in order to ensure the persistence of this species in New York. Potential management practices include burning, mowing, and plowing of fields after the breeding season. Use Landowner Incentive Program funds to conserve privately-owned grasslands. Coordinate conservation efforts with other agencies and organizations and initiate an outreach program (Post 2005). It may also be possible to design a management plan that would include other threatened species with similar habitat requirements, such as the Short-eared Owl.

Research Needs [-]
Implement accurate and standardized survey methods to determine the population size in New York. Data should be collected on hunting habitat and roost site selection in various habitats such as salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, agricultural habitats, and maritime heaths. Determine the sizes of hunting ranges of birds during the breeding and non-breeding season at sites with varying densities and habitat types. Determine the causes of breeding failure and mortality in young and adults. Conduct studies on the techniques used to maintain early successional habitats. Comparisons between treatments and the cost-effectiveness of each treatment are especially needed. Determine the amount and type of disturbances that breeding Northern harriers will tolerate. In coastal areas, determine the effect of salt marsh ditching on populations and their major prey species.