Monday, June 19, 2017

Hawk Story

Swainsons Hawk with gopher

Walking home (a common start to these stories) I heard some birds in a tree up ahead. I couldn't see them so I approached slowly. First I saw two magpies squawking, then a crow cawing, and finally their subject - a hawk.

It's not uncommon to see birds harassing a hawk, but usually to chase it away from their nest or territory, and often in flight.

The hawk was also calling, but not the strong loud call I would expect, it was a softer, more plaintive call. I wondered if it was a juvenile?

I backed up and got the tree between me and the hawk so I could get my camera out of my pack without scaring it away. I've done this enough times that I can take my pack off, get out my camera, put the pack back on, turn the camera on and zoom it, without taking my eyes off whatever critter has caught my eye.

Camera in hand, I carefully approached the tree. I took a few shots and then realized I was shooting against a bright sky and the hawk would be too dark. When I moved to adjust the camera the hawk took flight. But the flight was slow and awkward, There seemed to be something tangled around its legs. It landed in a tree not far away so I approached slowly again and this time got some better photos. The magpies and crow also followed. The hawk flew again, but still not very well. This time it landed on the ground. Once more the other birds followed.

It looked like the hawk had something tangled around its legs, possibly fishing line. I wondered whether I should be calling a wildlife rescue person, but since it could still fly it seemed it would be hard to catch. In the end I decided to let nature take its course.

Swainsons Hawk with gopher

My guess was totally wrong. When I got home and looked at the photos on the computer I could see the hawk had a gopher. It must have been the weight of the gopher that was making it hard to fly. And the other birds were probably trying to harass it enough that it would drop its tasty prize. Based on the photos I think it's a Swainson's Hawk. Normally they eat insects, mainly grasshoppers and dragonflies, but during breeding season they feed their chicks small mammals like gophers. In the winter they make one of the longest migrations of any raptor - all the way to Argentina.

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