May 18 2008

Fly UP!

Published by at 7:42 am under Bird Behavior

flyUP3.jpgI don’t have a photo of this but the only media that would do it justice is a video and I don’t have that either. Be prepared to use your imagination.

I’ve noticed a bird phenomenon near expressways that have open land on both sides of the highway. Perhaps you’ve seen it too.

Birds fly low and fast, straight toward the highway. Just as they reach the berm of the road they zoom upward 15 or 20 feet, then level off, cross the road and come down on the other side. The path they fly is like a three-sided box: up, across, down. I’ve noticed this most often among grackles and starlings. I’ve even seen yellow warblers do it.

At first I thought the birds were crazy because they did this when no traffic was near them. Then I realized they knew the height of a tractor trailer and, whether or not a truck was coming, they compensated for its height.

Smart!  And it appears they’ve taught it to each other.

Hawks who hunt near highways know about traffic, but they become so absorbed in catching prey that they forget to fly up, or the prey is so heavy they can’t gain altitude. Sadly, they are often killed by cars.

If I see a hawk about to cross low over an expressway I give him room and, yes, I shout at him – almost a prayer – “Fly up! Fly up! Fly up!”

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