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An Unusual Sighting.

December 22, 2012

Harris’s Hawk

Last week I was doing a bit of early winter birdwatching.  I ran into a bird I’d not seen before in a surprising manner, and I wanted to share this with everyone.
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On the way out to a few birding areas, I saw this group of birders out, most likely doing a Christmas Bird Count.  You may see similar groups between now and early January.

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Driving past a scrubby wooded area, I saw this Red-Tailed Hawk that I stopped to get a picture of.

This is a very common bird of prey in my area, yet I always like taking photographs of them.  Hawks seem to have lots of personality.

I went to 3 different spots in the area, and after some time I returned back the way I had came.  I looked for the Red-Tail in the same area…and instead, I saw this bird of prey on a lamp post:

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I had no idea what I was seeing!

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The one bird flew to a tree where another of its kind was already perching.

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The birds seemed familiar to me somehow…I’d seen them on a documentary before.

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…and I heard a jingling sound when they moved!

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You may have guessed what I was seeing.  Look at the photos of the bird sitting on the street lamp closely once more…notice the feet?

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Yes, those are bells on straps fitted around its legs.

What I saw were two Harris’s Hawks that were being used in falconry:

Arguably the best rabbit or hare raptor available anywhere, the Harris’ Hawk is also adept at catching birds. Often captive-bred, the Harris’ Hawk is remarkably popular because of its temperament and ability. The Harris Hawk is found in the wild living in groups or packs and hunts cooperatively, with a social hierarchy similar to wolves. This highly social behavior is not observed in any other bird of prey species and is very adaptable to falconry. This genus is native to the Americas from southern Texas and Arizona to northern South America. The Harris Hawk is often used in the modern technique of car hawking (aka drive-by falconry), where the raptor is launched from the window of a moving car at suitable prey.

Falconry is an ancient sport that is at least 4,000 years old.  I never spotted the hawks’ master, but he or she was certainly in the area.  This is the first time I’d spotted such an activity in the wild.  These birds were learning to hunt, or they were out practicing the hunt for their human owner.

So, the bad news was that I could not say that I saw a new species in its wild state- these birds were owned by someone, and they’re not a native species this far north anyways.  But it was really neat to see them.

Lesson learned- you never know what you’re going to see out there!

34 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2012 8:18 pm


  2. December 22, 2012 8:41 pm

    I went to a raptor rehab center once and the owner was going to show us some of her falcons hunting, but the weather was not cooperating and she wouldn’t risk her birds. You are so lucky you were able to see this. Great shots of these birds!

  3. December 22, 2012 8:59 pm

    Wow, that was a find!

  4. December 22, 2012 10:18 pm

    What a fortunate but unusual sighting, Tracy. I am glad that you had the experience and got some real neat images of it.

  5. December 22, 2012 10:33 pm

    Those are quite interesting birds to see while out birding!

  6. December 22, 2012 11:32 pm

    Beautiful! I’m in AZ for the holidays and spotted a wild pair of these guys while out walking this evening. I think they’re one of the most beautiful hawks in North America, with those chestnut highlights in their wings! I didn’t know they were popular for falconry – that’s interesting, given their cooperative hunting style.

  7. December 23, 2012 12:09 am

    Very informative. I didn’t know all this about falconry. Beautiful birds, and a great find. 🙂

  8. December 23, 2012 6:41 am

    Very interest bird! Thanks for sharing.

  9. December 23, 2012 10:35 am

    What an interesting sighting!

  10. December 23, 2012 10:39 am

    Wow; what an excellent post on “noticing!” Thank you!

  11. December 23, 2012 12:17 pm

    Beautiful creature, that Harris hawk. We have red-tailed hawks here as well; one welcomed us the day we moved into our house and we still have the feather it dropped fixed above our front door. I’m going out on a bird count after Christmas; I hope I find something as exciting! Thanks for a wonderful post, Tracy.

  12. December 23, 2012 8:35 pm

    Those are great photos. You could always have an “unofficial” list and place this one on it. I know of some who do things like that. I too think the hawks are fun to photograph. We had a juvenile Red-tailed hawk near our home that was a treat. S/he cried all the time, but eventually stopped. We participated in the CBC this year, but we were on the road driving the lone country roads in our area.

    • December 23, 2012 8:44 pm

      That’s a good idea, Birding Bunch- I think I’ll start that unofficial list!

      Sounds like a good CBC 🙂

  13. December 24, 2012 2:05 pm

    That was an interesting encounter! Harris Hawks are owned by many falconers in the UK, too – we see them often at Game Fairs, in the falconry displays.

  14. December 24, 2012 6:56 pm

    What a great time! I love running into the unexpected in nature. It’s what keeps me going back, and it happens quite often. Thanks for an interesting post.

  15. December 25, 2012 12:47 am

    Magnificent! I would still be smiling. I love the photos. They’re such a treasure to enjoy the unexpected and beautiful birds. 🙂
    Wishing you and your family a day of joy and happiness. Merry Christmas! 🙂

  16. December 26, 2012 9:07 am

    I remember reading about falconry in the novel The Once and Future King. But I had no idea that anyone still practiced it. Interesting find!

    • December 27, 2012 9:25 am

      It is interesting, Inger- I’ve seen it in historical movies, but I know very little about modern-day falconry.

  17. Irina permalink
    January 15, 2013 9:22 pm

    Tracy, you never know… indeed. At the first picture of this post in the group of birders I saw myself. We were doing CBC at OSU farm. It is so pitty, we missed that Harris’s hawk!

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