Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Harassed Hawk

The Denver Post just ran a story about local hawks being harassed by Western Kingbirds. It was accompanied by a great photo of a kingbird riding on the back of a Red-tailed Hawk while pecking the raptor's head.

Here's their story:

"Awesome" photo a hit for Westminster birder
By Howard Pankratz
The Denver Post

Pat Gaines actually felt sorry for the red-tailed hawks at Bonny Lake State Park this summer.

Despite their aggressive reputation, loud screams and fierce, piercing looks, the red-tailed hawks at the park north of Burlington, just west of the Colorado-Kansas border, were being bullied when Gaines saw them.

"I've never seen red-tails harassed so much. They all seemed hoarse. I felt kind of sorry for them," said Gaines of the sight of dozens of little birds dive-bombing the hawks.

The hawks were minding their own business, Gaines recalled.

But the western kingbirds at the park were upset.

Highly territorial, the kingbirds felt the hawks were intruding on their space, said Gaines, a Westminster scientist who helps develop vaccines and tests used in veterinary medicine.

Gaines had focused his camera on one red-tailed hawk because the bird had been screaming. As he followed the hawk across the sky, a kingbird dive-bombed the hawk.

The hawk, which is not a predator of the kingbird, flew as fast as it could from the kingbird. For a moment it appeared the kingbird had stopped attacking. But then it began the pursuit again and — to Gaines amazement — landed on the hapless red-tail's back.

"He rode the hawk for 25 yards. The hawk was not trying to fight back — it was just trying to get out of there," said Gaines.

As the kingbird rode bareback on the hawk, it pecked away at the hawk's head.

"They (the kingbirds) are not afraid of anything," said Gaines. "Until this happened, I had never seen one perch on a hawk's back."

Gaines posted his photo at the Colorado Birder website last month, where he is a frequent contributor.

Other sites, including some in the United Kingdom, have picked up the photo.

The comment posted by Colorado Birder Sarah E sums up the reaction to the image: "Awesome photo!"

2 comments:

Marie said...

Hi Rob

Unrelated comment, actually a question:

AS a South African, I am used to bird guides such as Roberts or Newmans, which are compactly exhaustive (?1) and richly illustrated. Is there anything similar available in the US? What book would you recommend for a beginning (US) birder like me? My mother is about to visit New York from SA and is keen birder, and I'd like to spend some time in the parks - with guide - with her.

Rob Jett said...

The Sibley Guide to Birds has become the standard. It is available as either a very large, full North American guide or two separate (compact) Eastern North American and Western/Central North America.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope