Mar 05 2009


For months the crows have been loud and obnoxious while red-tailed hawks have been present but not particularly noticeable.  This month they switch roles because it’s courtship time.

Birds’ courtship rituals often exaggerate what the species does best.  To attract a mate, some species sing or dance, others display their feathers.  Birds of prey show off their flight skills.

That’s why we’re seeing a lot of red-tailed hawks lately.  In winter they don’t care to be noticed but now they’re conspicuous, soaring to claim territory, chasing each other in powerful flight displays.

Mated pairs soar high together with wings outstretched.  You might hear them make sharp, shrill “chirps” or see them drop their legs to show their talons.  Watch for the male to do his Sky Dance in which he folds his wings and dives down, then zooms up in undulating flight like a woodpecker.  If his lady is in an amorous mood she’ll head for a perch near the nest and wait for him.  When he makes a beeline to join her, mating follows.

And they are loud.  During territorial disputes red-tailed hawks soar with exaggerated wingbeats and scream in a sound so blood-curdling that foley editors sometimes use it (incorrectly!) as the voice of the bald eagle on videos.

Meanwhile the crows go silent.  It’s hard to believe but there will be a day when you just won’t notice crows any more.  As soon as they nest they become very secretive, switching from obnoxious to oblique behavior.  You might see them but you won’t hear them unless they’re upset by a predator.

Will we notice when the crows change their ways?  It usually takes me a while.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Conspicuous”

  1. Carlaon 05 Mar 2009 at 4:30 pm

    The gulls are back at the Northern Lights shopping center in Baden, PA. I thought I read an article about where they come from and why the show up there just about every year. Was it on your site?

  2. Kate St. Johnon 05 Mar 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I mentioned gull migration in my January & February phenology blogs as one-liners. Perhaps you saw more information on Chuck Tague’s blog…? If you find the spot, let me know.

  3. Cory DeSteinon 28 Mar 2009 at 7:53 pm

    My little list in my head of red tailed hawk nests is up to 5 local red tailed hawk nests, sadly 2 from last year were cut down….One near the Allegheny County Airport the other in Castle Shannon…..Its a shame for those 2 but the other 5(especially the two above Rt. 28 are thriving!!!) And I was suprised two years ago to discover the nest above 367 at the Edgewood Swissvale Exit!!

  4. Tracion 20 May 2009 at 10:06 am

    Kate –
    This morning I was walking on Stanton Avenue, which runs along the Allegheny Cemetary border. I always look for Hawks and generally see one high, high up, circling. But today, I saw a huge bird, with a white head and sort of non-descript brownish body flying very low, over the houses toward the Shop and Save on Butler.

    It was gliding, slowly. I normally carry my camera but didn’t have it.

    What do you think it was? It seemed too big to be a hawk and it was flying so low I could see it’s legs and talons!! Was it some sort of vulture?

    I’m going to carry my camera the rest of the week, in the hopes I see it again.

  5. Kate St. Johnon 20 May 2009 at 10:14 am

    hmmm.. What color was its tail?

  6. Tracion 20 May 2009 at 10:53 am

    The sun was glaring and the bird was right in that glare – so the body seemed pretty non-descript! A brownish…in my mind’s eye right now I want to say I saw some black on the tail? I remember the head was white or paler than the body and I thought, “That can not be an eagle.” It’s feet were bright in comparison…the talon part.

    I’m going to carry the old digital and hope I see it again. I have never seen a hawk fly that low and it was a big bird. The cemetary hosts lots of deer and geese, racoon, possum…could it have been some sort of vulture? Curiosity is going to drive me crazy!! :)

  7. Kate St. Johnon 20 May 2009 at 10:59 am

    I can’t tell. I hope you get a picture.

  8. Tracion 21 May 2009 at 12:25 pm

    No luck this morning – but I did find a small fledgling of a bird (which turned out to be a Starling) during my walk. His belly looked like he’d been drug under a car I couldn’t find a nest (he was on the sidewalk of Stanton) and his belly was a mass of red encrusted something…so I carried him the mile home. I’m shocked he didn’t die from the stress.

    I took him to the Wildlife Center where they identified him as Starling (and another person arrived with another one!!). The woman there said she thought the bird’s head, I saw, only appeared white because I was looking up under it. She said Redtailed Hawk were common in this area (Lawrenceville/Verona) – so maybe that was it. I hope to see it again one day.

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