Published On: Fri, Aug 22nd, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – NIFTY SHADES OF GRAY: GRAY HAWK

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Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired”, zoologist, wildlife photographer, and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 53 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, © Cherie Pittillo

Gray Hawk, Buteo plagiatus, Aguililla Gris (Spanish) Sak ch’uuy (Mayan)

Gray Hawk

Gray Hawk

A beauty of the Buteo (bu-tee-oh) species in nifty shades of gray, the Gray Hawk.

My first encounter with this bird of prey happened in my Merida backyard. But it wasn’t gray. As an immature Gray Hawk, its back plumage was brown while the white front was dribbled with chocolate streaks. Three years later another immature graced my pool wall.

Immature Gray Hawk

Immature Gray Hawk

SOUND LINK: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/4305

Between these visits I saw a pair of adults silently glide through my backyard twice.

I didn’t expect this raptor in the city. Common throughout the peninsula I see it perched on utility poles or trees along our highways. It ranges from SW USA to N Argentina.

Gray Hawks perch on utility poles or trees along roadsides

Gray Hawks perch on utility poles or trees along roadsides

While photographing the *One Tree: 15 Bird Species in Merida columns, I heard a Gray Hawk calling in the distance.  I could see it in a leafy tree, then it flew to a palm, and another one, and then disappeared.  It called from each perch. Why was it so vocal?

Gray Hawk adult

Gray Hawk adult

Suddenly this adult appeared in the “One Tree”. Immediately a Clay-colored Thrush chased it to a nearby, leafless treetop. This hawk became a sitting duck because in a flash several species came to mob it.

In the bird world a variety of species may swoop, fuss, scream, fly by, attack, and dive at a bird of prey or “mob” it. I call it a birdy “flash mob”. Two Couch’s Kingbirds repeatedly dove at it. Two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers fussed at it. The Clay-colored Thrush attempted to flush it. Even a Hooded Oriole growled at it.

Gray Hawk calls as several bird species mob it, including a Tropical Mockingbird in the background

Gray Hawk calls as several bird species mob it, including a Tropical Mockingbird in the background

Clay-colored Thrush attempts to flush Gray Hawk

Clay-colored Thrush attempts to flush Gray Hawk

Yet the hawk loudly vocalized in its completely exposed perch, “Location, location, location!” How puzzling. Was it trying to get its mate’s attention? Meanwhile, its partner sat atop a tower a hundred feet away and didn’t seem to respond.

Gray Hawk seems to ignore calls from mate

Gray Hawk seems to ignore calls from mate

Finally the hawk flew away as two Tropical Mockingbirds tormented it. Guess all the hawk harassers added up to a “flush mob”.

Two Tropical Mockingbirds mob Gray Hawk

Two Tropical Mockingbirds mob Gray Hawk

Mobbing actions always surprise me especially when songbirds mob. They must fling caution to the wind as they throw a temper tantrum in front of a bird of prey. They mock the hawk. Sure the Gray Hawk feeds on lizards, snakes, rabbits, mice, and large insects, but it also dines on birds. Their talons are used to kill their prey and their beaks are adapted to tear flesh, including those of birds!

Since the belligerent bird bullies outnumbered the hawk, maybe that’s why it didn’t attack any.

Gray Hawk calls for her mate

Gray Hawk calls for her mate

Also, I didn’t understand why the Gray Hawk screamed nonstop for thirty minutes. Surely it wasn’t looking for romance amid the ruckus. References state the calls may be used to beg for food, for location, for territorial defense, or to sound an alarm.  Also these raptors are more vocal during the breeding season or near the nest. In the Yucatan that season is March-June. Aha! I photographed this one in May. One source states a call can solicit mating. I was wrong! An urge to merge in nifty shades of gray!

Oh my gosh, a Buteo booty call.

Go wander outdoors at nature’s wonders

SOUND LINK: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/4197

*http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2014/07/backyard-birding-in-merida-yucatan-and-beyond-one-tree-15-bird-species-part-1/

*http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2014/07/backyard-birding-in-merida-yucatan-and-beyond-one-tree-15-bird-species-part-2/

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Here are my resources: Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behaviors, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, Lives of North American Birds, http://macaulaylibrary.org/, http://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/gray-hawk/, http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=127156, http://globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8009http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Asturina_nitida/

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  1. Diane Nunn says:

    That’s our Cheerio Cherie funster punster. I think this Hawk was trying to compete with you but was doing such a bad job the other birds were throwing things. Maybe “punmatoes”. (ok, okay, but whokinresist!?)

  2. Cherie says:

    Thanks for commenting, Diane, and adding to the word play. I wonder if the puns appear, because they amuse me. Am I simple minded because I’m so easily entertained by them? I also don’t understand where they come from or when they will arrive; they just do. I simply marvel at that.

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