Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Northern Harrier Hunting--Vickie Henderson

The Northern Harrier is categorized in a bird family all its own because of its unique habits and body structure.  Unlike other hawks, they hunt from sound, as well as sight and have stiff facial bristles, similar to owls, to help conduct sound.    
Besides appearing enormous because of their slender bodies and 40-46 inch wing span (102-118 cm), these birds are amazing acrobats, able to hover in place to hone in on their prey.  The duration of this hovering is unique to Northern Harriers and the American Kestrel in North America.  

Because they breed in northern states and are just arriving on wintering grounds in east Tennessee, placing this bird in this painting this time of year presented me with a challenge.  But I am always encouraged by the amount of information that gets stored away in our memories while we are observing nature.  And even more amazing, it's ready to be retrieved and guide us when we need it!  
I used many reference photos to help with the finer details on the bird and a generous amount of imagination to create the landscape, one that I'm familiar with from having seen this bird gliding over fields many times, and as recently as last spring.  Above you see some initial sketches I made to work out the body position before beginning the painting. On the left, a male hovering, and to the right a female gliding.  You can see the owl-like appearance in the sketch to the right and also the difference in gender color.  The male has grayish plumage above, and is white below, gaining him the nickname of ghost bird, while the females are shades of golden brown.  Both have banded tails.    

To see more of my explorations while creating this painting visit:  Northern Harrier Hunting at Vickie's Sketchbook.  More information about the Northern Harrier can be found at Cornell's "All About" page.


  1. I've not been able to digitally capture this hawk yet. I love the way they soar at a distance of only a few feet above fence lines following them while hunting. I wondered about this technique which now makes sense if they use hearing to locate prey, hence the close to the earth hunting process. thanks, and hugs!

  2. Vickie this is a gorgeous bird. I love your painting but I'm so drawn to your sketches. They have such wonderful life to them.


We'd love to hear from you, your questions, comments, observations! Please feel free to comment, feedback is important to us.