Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blakeman on Redtails [and we've missed him...]

Photo by MURRAY HEAD 5/27/12
Murray's photo of the Red-winged Blackbird flying onto the back of the soaring Red-tailed Hawk is interesting. A revelatory story.
Here in Northern Ohio, we commonly find the red epaulet feathers of male Redwinged Blackbirds in local Red-tailed Hawk nests. For some time, it was unknown how these big hawks were so able to capture the smaller, aerially-adroit blackbirds. Normally in flight, they can easily avoid an attacking flight of the big, somewhat slower hawk.
But this photo reveals exactly how the intelligent Red-tail so easily accomplishes captures of these aggressive blackbirds. Here's what was discovered in a local study of nesting Red-tailed Hawks.
Each day, a Red-tail tiercel haggard, a male adult, of a local nesting pair, would fly out over a alfalfa field which contained a harem of nesting female Redwings. On the first day of such a flyover, the hawk would be up a few hundred feet, and the local resident male Redwing would fly up and harass the hawk flying high over head. The hawk quickly left the field, leaving the incubating Redwing blackbirds safe.
But the next day, the Red-tail, at about the same time, would do another flyover, causing the protective male Redwing to once again to fly up and harass the hawk, attempting to drive it away and keep it from snagging any of its incubating female blackbirds. On the second day, success once again for the blackbird.
Likewise on one or two following days, which in each case the hawk flew lower.
But finally, after several days of these harassing flights by the hawk, the Redwing became ever more emboldened and got closer and closer each day, just as shown in Murray's definitive photo.
Then, finally, the hawk struck. After several days of ever lower harassing flyovers by the hawk, the Redwing become overly emboldened and actually dropped upon the hawk's back as it flew over. As quick as a cat, the hawk would invert itself in the air and instantly snag the lured-in Redwing Blackbird from the air.
And easy meal for a few casual fights over a field loaded with Redwinged Blackbird nests. The Red-tails figured this out all on their own, and would fly around their territories looking for blackbird-loaded alfalfa fields where they could work their harassing magic.
Smart birds, these Red-tails.
 -John Blakeman

PS from Marie: [Murray's second story, promised yesterday, postponed until tomorrow.