Sunday, February 22, 2009

Red Tailed Hawk - Courtship gone bad

Last year I posted a blog entry on a Red Tailed Hawk pair that were courting high over my house.

They are back again this spring, BUT things are not going as well as last year. The female was doing slow orbits yesterday when she screamed and moved off to the South. The male appeared and immediately took an aggressive posture and stooped her.

Here is what the camera captured.

The male hawk approached from above and with out any warning he folded his wings in and dropped at a high rate of speed. My camera takes about three pictures per second. Look at the tree in the following photos as a reference for a comparison of the distance and speed traveled. You can also see the size difference between the two birds. It is deceptive though due to the wing posture of the male. By closing his wings in close to his body he gains incredible speed in a very sort distance.

The female hawk starts to flip her talons upward to ward off the attack.

Flipping all the way on to her back she has lost all areal dynamic stability and speed. I could not tell if he actually struck her or if it was just a near miss.

In a complete stall she lowers he legs to regain forward air speed and stability.

Here is a close up of the "strike".

Here is a close up of the recovery maneuver.

I doubt that he really wanted to hurt her or her him. I think this is all part of the courtship "dance". With each encounter like this they will size up each others skills and health to determine if the other is a suitable candidate for mating.

This whole encounter took place in less than three seconds.

Last week they were sitting in a tree together and everything seemed to be fine. I am sure all will work out as it should.

This is a close up of the female hawk. I have not been able to get close to the male yet.

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No small wonder.

In the past weeks the weather here in the Puget Sound has been a bit rough. Forage and open water have been very important to the small birds of the area. The smaller the bird the harder it is to travel great distances to find food and water. It boils down to a stark reality, one missed meal, an injury or any unnecessary caloric expenditure and the end may not be far away.

I bitch about the chill I get if I am careless enough to take the dogs out and I forget my coat. Yet I take for granted that the little birds in the the yard will be there in the morning, even as I get under the covers of my warm bed in a heated house. The birds tough it out in the elements all night long. Cold, rain, snow, wind and not to mention predators.

In the past three weeks I have been very fortunate to have a flock of Bushtits visiting my feeders and water spot. They never follow a routine, they never stop and they never stay long.

The following are some of the better shots I was able to capture.

The only notable difference between bushtits is that the eye color is black in males and sub-adults and yellow in females.

These are tiny birds, imagine two to four raisins in weight. Suet is a high energy food that draws Bushtits to feeders during the winter months. Surprisingly Bushtits are carnivores. Small insects are hard to find in the winter but Bushtits are constantly working to keep the calorie intake up. In doing so they are constantly burning those preciously hard won reserves. The bugs they consume in the winter are dormant and barley visible to the naked (human) eye.

Very agile, amazingly fast and accomplished acrobatics.

The best defense for small birds as well as Bushtits is to flock. The confusion of movement and many sharp eyes make it hard for predators to single out an individual for an attack. Bushtits should not have much to worry about, they are not much of a prize for even the smallest of predators.

Even with the flock defense working it does not mean that predators will not try. Can you see the crow sized adult Cooper's Hawk in this picture? If not you would surely be a dead little Bushtit.
This hawk is a specialist in stalking small birds in forested haunts. Stealth, speed and a sometimes seeming reckless disregard for self injury Cooper's Hawks will pursue their prey through the thickest of brush.

When all else fails speed is an option.

Here are some more portraits of the feeder visitors.




This Bushtit has no tail, why? I have no clue as to how it effects the birds flight or function in life. It must have some influence on flight capabilities. (But then again bushtits are not long distance fliers, they tend to flit from point to point in an erratic, unpredictable and undulating method.) Genetics, attempted predation, illness, malnutrition or just a freak, I doubt if I will ever know. This bird is so small and I do not know if I will ever see it again.

Last night a storm front passed through the South sound. High winds whipped the yard and the house shuddered. This morning I went out to survey for damage.

I was dismayed to find this Bushtit in the driveway. He was on the asphalt near the garage door. The best assumption I can make is that the wind caught this little guy as he rounded the corner coming away from the feeder and slammed him in to the garage door. After looking at the previous pictures, this picture suddenly put things in to a new perspective. How can something so small and frail exist in the world of the wild? Yet I know that for millions of years billions of individuals have.

If this bird had died in a bush it would have never been found. Here is an opportunity to learn and marvel in the size and structure of this amazing little guy.

I am not sure but I would imagine that pound for pound the bushtit's "talons" would a fair bit larger that a Bald Eagles! They look even larger in proportion that those on the velaceraptors in the movie Jurassic Park.

What better comparison can be made then this?