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: email@example.com All rights reserved, © Cherie Pittillo
Gray Hawk, Buteo plagiatus, Aguililla Gris (Spanish) Sak ch’uuy (Mayan)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Finally the hawk flew away as two Tropical Mockingbirds tormented it. Guess all the hawk harassers added up to a “flush mob”.
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.
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
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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