Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hawk vs Hawk

Yesterday's battle between two hawks at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest reminded me of the scheming situations of "Spy vs Spy" in MAD Magazine. While marking trees for a group of 9th and 10th graders preparing for the Envirothon competition, we heard a ruckus down the low boardwalk, which is used for educational programming. Much of the noise was the familiar call of the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), which is a resident of the swamp forest. Although the other call was familiar, we could not put a name to it. Possibly, it was another Red-shouldered Hawk in distress or in the throes of passion.

We slowly made our way down the low boardwalk. While the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk was constant and apparently highly-agitated, the other call was only heard when we caught a brief glimpse of the Red-shouldered Hawk diving and swooping low to the ground. Before we could get close, a hawk lifted from the ground and quickly disappeared through the young forest in the direction of the nearby fields. The call of the Red-shouldered Hawk followed the other bird out. We assumed that either a rival Red-shouldered Hawk had intruded on another's territory or possibly the bird on the ground was not interested in any amorous avians.

Once the participants had departed, we assumed the show was over and we would never know what had transpired. As we stood next to the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) waiting for the Global Positioning Systems (GPS) unit to settle in, we noticed a squirrel (see image) on the ground. On closer inspection, it was a female that appeared to be nursing young. The hole in her side suggested that she was the object of the dispute between the hawks and had been abandoned when they flew off. However, if they were fighting over the squirrel, why didn't one return for the meal? Suddenly, we recognized the other bird's call. It's the call that movie producers often dub in when a Bald Eagle is shown soaring over the was the call of a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). For whatever reason, the Red-tailed Hawk was away from its customary open fields and in the forested territory of the Red-shouldered Hawk. We suspect that there is also a Red-shouldered Hawk nest in a nearby tall pine.

Obviously, if you're wearing red on the wrong part of your body while in this neighborhood, there's going to be trouble!

Images by Mark Musselman

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