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. It’s courtship time.
Birds have many courtship rituals. Some species sing, some dance, some display their feathers and some display their flying skills. Prairie-nesting songbirds, such as bobolinks, sing while hovering above their territory. Hawks and falcons soar and chase in powerful flight displays.
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 their territories and court their mates.
Red-tails’ courtship and territory displays are very similar. You may see a pair soaring together, then one drops his legs to show his talons. Sometimes one of the pair performs an undulating flight like a woodpecker, repeatedly diving down with wings closed, then flying up. You know the pair is courting if the two stay together when the flight is over instead of one leaving in a rush.
Merely flying is not enough for red-tailed hawks. At this time of year they scream to attract attention. Their sound is so blood-curdling that foley editors sometimes use it – incorrectly! – as the voice of the bald eagle on videos. This bad coupling of sound to picture drives me nuts.
When hawks and falcons are a mated pair, they soar together. Red-tail pairs wheel in the same patch of sky, peregrines fly a powerful ballet. In both cases one of the pair will often fold its wings and make a beeline for the nest area. The other mate usually follows to continue courting there. Peregrines then bow at the nest; red-tailed hawks often mate there.
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 will see them but you won’t hear them.
Will you notice when the crows change their ways? It usually takes me a while. Noticing an absence is a lot harder than noticing an arrival.
(photo by Chuck Tague)