Harriers are hawks which belong to the “Circinae” subfamily of the “Accipiter” family of hawks. Harriers are gorgeous and distinctive birds. One of the most notable features of the Harrier subfamily is their unique owl-like faces. Unlike other hawks, Harriers’ faces are round-shaped with stiff feathers which direct sound to their ears. Like owls, Harriers use both sharp vision and acute hearing in order to hunt and detect their prey.
The Harrier is a bit of a misfit amongst hawks. Low-flying and owl-like, these hawks are often difficult for birdwatchers to identify. Male and female Harriers have vastly different appearances as well as differences in behavior. As the unusual “black sheep” of the Accipiter family, Harriers inspire both fascination and awe in the people who enjoy them. In this article, we’ll look at the myths and symbols attached to Harriers as well as some of the unique and fascinating virtues and lessons that Harriers embody. (1)
Harrier Symbolism and Meaning
Harriers tend to hunt small prey, such as rodents and other small mammals. They have been known, hunt larger animals. In fact, Harriers are known to hunt larger animals, such as large waterfowl or rabbits, by drowning them. So, Harriers may represent strategy and power. The Harrier may be symbolic of the determined individual’s ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. With the correct strategy and enough determination, no meal is too big to take down! (2)
Northern Harriers are often thought of as good luck in agricultural settings and as friends to farmers. Most hawks have a complicated relationship with farmers. They are prized for eating agricultural pests like mice and other rodents, but they are also reviled for their tendency to steal chickens and other smaller livestock like quails or ducks. Northern Harriers are unique in this respect. They are considered “good hawks” because they do not typically prey upon chickens or domestic fowl. For this reason, Harriers may represent protection, good luck, prosperity, or purification. (3)
Northern Harriers are also unique due to the unusual degree of sexual dimorphism which they exhibit. Sexual dimorphism refers the phenomenon wherein males and females of a species will have noticeable external physical differences. The fact that only male peacocks sport that impressive fan of tail feathers is an excellent example of sexual dimorphism. With peacocks, the difference is extremely visible, but many species have more subtle bits of dimorphism between the sexes. In the case of Northern Harriers, adult males are small and gray. They tend to be observed flying lower and faster than females. Adult females are larger and brown. One interesting fact is that, when hatched, male chicks have yellowish green eyes. Female chicks’ eyes are dark brown. As they mature, both male and female end up having the same yellow eye color. In the birding world, Harriers may represent the unique difficulties that come with identifying birds of different sexes or different stages of development. In a more abstract sense, Harriers may be seen as representing masculine or feminine energy as well as the balance between the two of them. (4)
Harriers often nest in loose or unstructured colonies. Males are known to have up to five mates at a time, however they usually have two. Too many mates can pose a real challenge for the male Harrier who is responsible for hunting and delivering food to the female and chicks until the chicks are old enough to be left alone by their mother for short stretches. Harriers are also known for their impressive free-wheeling courtship displays which are sometimes referred to as the “sky dance.” Harriers may be taken as symbols of courtship, fatherhood, or affection. (5)(6)
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Harrier Native American Symbolism
According to the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Northern Harrier is associated with a particular Native American superstition. It is said that, amongst some Native American tribes, the sight of a Northern Harrier on one’s wedding day foretells a long and devoted marriage. (7)
In general, hawks like the Harrier are seen as symbols of courage, strength, and protection amongst Native American cultures. (8)
According to one Cheyenne legend, the hawk and the magpie were the two animals which ended a period of suffering for humankind. According to this legend, humans were once hunted by buffalo who subsisted by eating humans. The hawk and the magpie were both kind and helpful to humans. They felt bad seeing humankind preyed upon in this way. One day, these two birds challenged the buffalo to a race. If the birds won, then the tables would turn and the humans would eat the buffalo instead. The race was close, but the hawk was incredibly fast and he managed to win. After that day, the humans hunted and ate the buffalo and the people held the hawk and magpie to be sacred helpers. (9)
Harrier Christianity Symbolism
Harriers are not present in the Bible, however hawks are present in some pieces of biblical symbolism. Hawks are considered to be amongst the animals that are too unclean to be eaten by humans.
“From generation to generation it shall lie waste;— Isaiah 34:10-11 (10)
none shall pass through it forever and ever.
But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
and the plumb line of emptiness.”
This passage connects hawks to desolation and wildness. These birds are thought of as representatives of uninhabited and wild spaces.
Harrier Celtic Symbolism
Celtic mythology associates the hawk with time, longevity, wisdom, and strength. The Harrier, specifically, does not have a unique role in Celtic mythology. As a hawk, we can connect the Harrier to Celtic hawk symbolism. According to one Irish myth, a great gray hawk bore witness to all the events of earth and lived for thousands of years. When the great hawk was ready to die, he met a man named Fintan. The great gray hawk decided to tell Fintan his story. Fintan was an ancient man who had also lived for thousands of years and was quite exhausted. The two told each other about all of the wonders they had witnessed. When their stories were completely finished, the man and the hawk died together, marking the end of two extremely long lives. (11)
Harrier in Dreams
Dreaming of Harriers may represent an upcoming problem which may require a strategic or unexpected solution. Like the Harrier, which has been known to drown large prey when it is unable to kill them using its own strength, you may need to find a clever way to solve your problems. Sometimes, brute force is not enough to get past life’s challenges but if you are quick on your feet then you can get through just about anything.
Dreaming about a Harrier may also be a sign of good luck or cooperation. A Harrier dream my be a reminder that cooperating with unexpected allies may be the best way to bring prosperity and good luck into your life. Just as the Harrier is good for farmers, unlike other hawks which may prey upon fowl, it is wise to give others the chance to help you.
Harrier Encounters and Omens
According to Native American mythology, an encounter with a Harrier can spell good news for a budding romance. Harrier encounters are taken as a sign that a marriage will be long, fruitful, and happy. So, a Harrier encounter may be a sign foretelling a joyous new romance.
A Harrier encounter may also represent the cycles of one’s life. The “Circinae” name comes from the word “kirkos” which is Greek for “circle.” Harriers have this scientific name because of their habit of flying over the ground in big low circles. This circling behavior is part of the Harrier’s sight hunting strategy. This connection with circles may connect these birds with the life’s cycles. Encountering a circling Harrier may indicate that you are entering into a new phase or cycle in your life. (12)
Harrier in Mythology & Folklore
In the following section, we’ll go over a few myths connected with Harriers specifically as well as hawks in general.
According to Maori mythology, the Swamp Harrier, or “Kahu,” was the son of the fire goddess, Mahuika. According to legend, the trickster god, Maui, once tricked the goddess Mahuika into giving him each of her fire children. One by one, he extinguished four of her children until she grew angry and threw the last child at Maui, lighting him on fire. As Maui was about to be struck by the flames, he transformed into the Kahu. So, the Kahu‘s feathers were tinged by flames and its colors were forever changed. From then on, the Kahu was considered to be a deity connected with both fire and the god, Maui. (13)(14)
The Egyptian god, Horus, is depicted as a man with the head of a mighty falcon. Horus is the divine son of the god Osiris, the king of the gods, and the goddess Isis. Horus is associated with leadership, vision, protection, and wisdom. Horus is predominately connected with falcons, however birds of prey are thought of as sacred symbols of leadership throughout Egyptian mythology and imagery. (13)
Harrier Spirit Animal
If your spirit animal is the Harrier then you are likely to be a stoic, focused person with a strong sense of duty and work ethic. People with the Harrier as their spirit animal tend to be private and introverted. The Harrier spirit animal prioritizes its responsibilities above all else.
People with the Harrier as their spirit animal are devoted to their loved ones and determined to provide them with the best lives possible. Because their duties are so important to them, people with the Harrier spirit animal tend to aim high in their careers and work hard to achieve a safe and prosperous lifestyle for their families.
Harrier Totem Animal
The Harrier totem animal is associated with life cycles. People with the Harrier as their totem animal often enter into life cycles which allow them to grow and mature. The Harrier totem animal is wise and level-headed. While change is a scary thing, people with the Harrier as their totem animal tend to be great at embracing the changes that life brings them, secure in the knowledge that life will bring them back to where they need to be.
Harrier Power Animal
The Harrier power animal is connected with balance. People with the Harrier as their power animal are great at achieving balance in their lives. This is especially important, since the Harrier is often drawn to high intensity career paths. The Harrier power animal understands that too much of a good thing, or anything for that matter, can be detrimental to the balance of one’s life.
People with the Harrier as their power animal are great at balancing out the energies of others. They can have a remarkably calming presence in high-stress social situations.
Harrier Tattoo Meaning
A Harrier tattoo may represent courage, determination, or strength. Additionally, a Harrier tattoo may represent balance or life cycles.
A Harrier tattoo may have special significance in the context of Maori mythology. A person with a Harrier tattoo in this context may choose the Harrier, or “Kahu,” to represent Maori identity, purification, or fire.
A Harrier tattoo may also represent prosperity, good luck, or cooperation.
With their owl-like faces and unique circling flight patterns, Harriers stand out quite a bit amongst hawks. The lithe gray bodies of male Harriers as well as the large brown females of the species inspire awe and fascination amongst the birders who observe them. Harriers are beautiful, keen-eyed hunters who remind us of the incredible majesty and power of the animal kingdom.