US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in The Southwestern Naturalist 50(4):448-452.


We studied habitat preferences of northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) in 4 counties of the Southern High Plains of northwestern Texas from October 1989 to May 1995. Harriers generally arrived in late July and departed in April. They hunted over a variety of habitats in the study area but mainly in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands and vegetated playa basins. CRP grasslands, playa basins, and shortgrass prairie were used disproportionately to their availability, whereas winter wheat was used less than its availability. Brown harriers (adult females or subadults of either sex) foraged in CRP about as often as adult males but more frequently in playas and prairies, whereas adult males foraged more in winter wheat. As underground water sources for irrigation continue to be depleted, agricultural practices are likely to change. Depending on how the land is used after irrigation ceases, harriers might benefit if CRP grasslands, vegetated playas, and shortgrass prairies persist. If dominant land use reverts to livestock grazing, however, the harrier population will be negatively affected.