Sunday, June 10, 2007

Baffling Red-tailed Hawk experience

Micropeza sp.

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

This afternoon I was in Prospect Park with my friend, Steve. He has a new macro lens that he has been using to photograph insects. From about 2PM until 4:30PM we were meandering, from the Midwood towards the north end of the park, Steve was searching for insects and I was looking for plants or whatever caught my eye.

In the wooded section of an area named Sullivan Hill, we spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched in a mature maple tree. After a few minutes he flew over our heads and, it looked like, to the ground about 50 yards away. I left Steve and took off on my bike to check it out. As I expected, the hawk was strolling around in the leaf litter, unconcerned and likely looking for chipmunks. Before I could take any photos he flew across the path a few feet in front of me. He landed on a tree branch at about eye level and extremely close to me. By his fearless behavior I assumed that he was a newly fledged red-tail as I could have walked right up to him and pat him on the head. Baltimore Orioles, robins and grackles were creating a ruckus, trying to drive the away the predators.

At first, it seemed like the juvenile hawk was trying to catch a squirrel on the opposite side of the tree trunk from his perch (aren’t they always). But the squirrel wasn’t his target and moved dangerously close to the raptor. I noticed a chipmunk hugging the tree about a foot off the ground. He was definitely on the bird of prey’s radar. The hawk jumped from his perch to another one in a sapling about three feet from the base of the tree. He pupils were dilated with determination, showing only a thin ring of yellow color. A few minutes later he was joined by another larger and paler young hawk. As this scene was unfolding, I stopped a young man who was walking towards me along the footpath. I can’t help myself, I always enjoy sharing the experience and watching the reaction when I point out a hawk in the park. When the second bird flew over to join the other, she practically skimmed the guy’s head. I think he actually ducked.

Where is he?

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

From what I have read, Harris’s Hawks are the only raptors that are cooperative hunters, but these two red-tails must have read a different book. The first hawk flew up to a perch directly over where the chipmunk had been hiding. Moments later, the second one flew to the base of the tree on the opposite side of where his partner was waiting. The chipmunk bolted to the near side and was immediately nailed by the one waiting above. The chipmunk was killed instantly and the two hawks flew to a tree near Battle Pass. I should have followed to see if they shared the meal, but didn’t think of it.

The area where they were hunting is not far from the Ravine nest. My immediate thought was that they were the recently fledged offspring of Alice and Ralph. However, it now seems astounding (and impossible) that two eyasses could have developed from mostly downy feathers to the point of successful hunting in only two weeks. The only other possibility is that these two Red-tailed Hawks are the pair that have been hanging around the northern end of the park. I haven’t had any close interactions with those individuals and, perhaps, they are just very tame. The pale individual would fit the description of the female from that pair. I’ll search through my photos to see if I have any images that are good enough to make an identification.

Juvenile red-tails in Prospect Park


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

1 comment:

Pamela said...

poor lil chipmnk

I would have preferred that they ate the squirrel. they are such nuisances at my feeders.

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