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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on the North Pair Red-tailed Hawks

Today was another spring-like day with more successful observations of the North Pair red-tailed hawks. The two birds spent a lot of time soaring around, which made for some more great photo-ops. Some aerial courtship behavior gave some clues as to who the male and female might be, and watching both of them together made it very clear that you can successfully tell the two apart, at least in flight.

Here is a photo of RTH2 (Red-Tailed Hawk 2), with arrows pointing to the patagial marks at the elbows. These marks are a distinguishing characteristic of red-tails, but are one of the easiest ways to tell these two birds apart.

Now this next photo is a little blurry, but it shows the patagial marks on RTH1, and they are much thinner:
Now the two hawks can be told apart - excellent! But which one is the male and which is the female? Well, as with most birds of prey, the female is larger than the male, but this can be very hard to determine in the field. When they were both flying together, one of them looked bigger but it was hard to say for sure. Luckily, this is breeding season, and copulation is often preceded by aerial displays.

Keith and I were watching RTH2 soaring in circles. RTH2 seems to be much more camera-friendly so far, as nearly all of my best photos are of that hawk. But suddenly RTH1 came over the ridge, looking very different in flight as its legs were completely extended!


They continued circling each other, RTH1 keeping its legs extended. I was lucky enough to get this picture of the pair together in flight:


At one point RTH1 descended above RTH2, grasping at the back in what looked very much like pre-copulatory behavior. Since RTH1 also looked like the smaller hawk, I'm going to designate RTH1 the male and RTH2 the female!

Now, RTH1 and 2 are okay, but I'm going to give them additional names to help keep them straight in my head as well as when I blog about them. RTH2, the female, will be Ruth (RuTH, get it?). She's a beautiful, curious bird, and I have some great photos of her. Here's another one:


The male, RTH1, will be Garth (gaRTH...I'm easily amused). I haven't been as lucky getting good, close shots of him yet, but here's one I think looks pretty cool:

11 comments:

Lauren Franciosi said...

Beautiful photos Monika. Thank you for Hawk 101. I enjoy the educational experience along with the wonderful pics!!!

Vickie said...

You are funny and dedicated! Great photos. Since you have so few red-tailed hawks there, you may have a shot at keeping them identified and tracking them. Fun.

Monika said...

Lauren, I'm glad you're enjoying all aspects of the blog!

Vickie, I certainly never thought I'd be IDing individual red-tailed hawks. On the mainland they're really quite common, but here on the island they're pretty outnumbered by bald eagles. It seems like the hawks (like eagles) seem to stick to their territory pretty well, so you usually find the same ones in the same place. It'll be fun to follow them along and get some more photos!

T and S said...

Beautiful flight shots of the Hawk. You have a nice collections of bird images....Thomas

Michele Wassell said...

I have been having a hard time getting the comment page up.... Finally it came up today. I love the Hawk photos. They are beautiful. Thanks for the lesson.. :)

Sparverius said...

Great post. I love watching birds of prey. Red-tails are among my favorite. I love what you've named these two.

Monika said...

Thanks so much, Thomas and Michele!

tshilson said...

Hi Monica! Just wondering what kind of camera/lens you are using. I am in the market myself. I get frustrated with my current small camera. Thanks.

Heather said...

These are fantastic photos Monika. I can't even see our Red-Tails that close-up with my binoculars! Thanks for sharing all this information and detail with us. It's very educational.

Monika said...

Tshilson - I'm using a Nikon D70S with a 70-300mm lens. It's not considered a "professional" level DSLR camera, but one level below that. I've often heard its the best in its price class, and I haven't had any reason to disagree with that assessment. It's great for everything I do.

Heather - I've never had a chance to be this close to red-tails either! I'm lucky to get some of these flight shots because they seem to be curious and interested in checking me out, too. I can't get close at all when they're perched!

oleflowerlady said...

"My" mated pair of red-tails here in the wild hinterlands of Sonoma County, Northern California, are "Maury and Gladys" (don't ask me why...). "Maury" is actually "Maury, Jr." since I observed his father and mother when I first arrived here 5 years ago. When Maury, Jr. was still a fledgling, he was squawking up a ruckus in a nearby scrub oak for the better part of an hour so I dashed up the hill and spoke soothingly to him for quite some time (even took some descent pix). Now, it seems as though he "knows" me and will circle the house, calling, until I emerge, wave and yell to him -- after which he lowers altitude, eye cocked toward me on the ground. He circles a couple of more times, seems satisfied and flies off to hunt... :o) Gladys I always recognize because she has a wing feather missing -- leaving a pronounced gap in that wing.