I’d know that rump anywhere.

In a wild place near the Des Plaines River, way north of Chicago, a hawk flew past like a fighter plane. It was only in sight for a second, but I knew what it was. It had an insignia.

The hawk was smaller than a buteo and had the long lines of an accipiter. But hawk plumage varies, making IDs hard. This one was dark and light. Maybe spots, maybe streaks. Too fast to tell. Didn’t matter anyway.

What mattered was its white rump, its insignia.

It was a Northern Harrier. No doubt about it. But why did I want to call it a Marsh Hawk? Maybe it’s because, until 1982, that’s what this hawk was called. Marsh Hawk. The name I’d learned a long time ago.

But griping about name changing has been done and overdone; let’s not do it. It’s old. Just like the bird books you had as a kid. Marsh Hawks are now Northern Harriers. The change is based on ornithological reasons determined by ornithologists. Case closed.

But first…

There’s a guy in Florida who pointed out that his tropical Marsh Hawks are now called Northern Harriers. Northern?

And the word “harry” is frankly a bit archaic. Exactly the kind of thing that makes some bird names sound dweeby. In fairness, it means to continuously attack. That’s a hawk thing, I guess. Overworked people say they’re harried. The name is sort of reasonable.

But still, people just don’t say “harrier.” It sounds like “hairier.” As in: “Bob, your girlfriend’s face is hairier than yours.” I guess you could call the hawk a “northern hurryer;” that would make sense. These hawks are usually in a hurry when you see them.

But no, they’re Northern Harriers. Even in southern Florida. The old name, Marsh Hawk, is retired. No matter that it described a hawk often found near marshes. Okay, point made. And making it is pointless. Let’s just say this:

A hawk tore over the ground today, reminding me of a fighter plane, locked and loaded. It was drab but had a white marking on its lower back. So I knew exactly what it was called. And what it had been called. And it was good to see it.

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