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.
1212-04 (14)

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.

1212-04 (13)

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:

1212-04 (6)

1212-04 (7)

1212-04 (9)

1212-04 (10)

I had no idea what I was seeing!

1212-04 (8)

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

1212-04 (3)

1212-04 (4)

1212-04 (11)

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

1212-04 (2)

…and I heard a jingling sound when they moved!

1212-04 (1)

1212-04 (5)

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?

1212-04 (6)

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!