Sunday, March 22, 2009

high wind redtail hawk behaviors seen today, including flying backwards

Today I went to the field, and first of all, saw the Common Black Hawk in its home location and hopefully got a good photograph of the band on its leg.

The day was very windy, with gusts perhaps as high was forty or fifty miles per hour. Telephone lines were blowing and birds flying with the high energy used by sailors on San Francisco Bay.

I checked some nests. A nest on Chileno Valley Road was interesting; the female's rump end was sticking upwards out of the nest as if she wanted to get her head as low as possible. I suspect she is trying to incubate new eggs and she does not like the high wind one bit.

Just down the road I saw an adult male redtail who was probably the incubating female's mate. He was hunting over a dairy pasture and flying low in the high wind. He pumped his wings to go forwards and demonstrated a behavior at low altitude that I had never seen in a redtail to my knowledge. While always facing forward, this bird would open his wings and allow himself to be blown backwards while in full control of his sails so as to move backwards across the field while facing forwards. Then he would pump his wings and move forwards to the slight left or right, and thus able to cover the field with minimal energy expense for the conditions at hand.

I have seen redtails move backwards while slope soaring or high above the ground, but this bird was maybe fifteen feet above the ground. He had full confidence in his flight control capability and flew like the master aeronaut that he is.

Now that I have seen a hawk flying backwards at low elevation, I look forward to seeing what additional surprises and delights lie in store as my hawk monitoring life goes on...

Stan Moore

Fairfax Raptor Research

P.O. Box 341

San Geronimo, CA 94963


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