Gray Hawk Buteo plagiatus
a web page by Don Roberson

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
This is said to be the Post Office motto, but actually there is no official motto. Yet the sentiment is clear enough, and fair enough, for the postal service.
And today it could be our motto as well.

Rita Carratello and I finally had a mutual day off from work, and despite high winds and soon to be heavy rains, we departed Pacific Grove in the gloom of night (5 a.m.) in hopes of reaching Carpinteria in time to see the Gray Hawk before today's storm engulfed that area as well. There was, indeed, a colossal downpour as we drove through Goleta, but Carpinteria was drying out.... and so was this lovely little hawk. Thanks to the Internet and Rita's new iPhone, we read early morning messages as to where the hawk was drying off in a palm orchard across the railroad tracks at the east end of Santa Claus Lane (many thanks to those posting... and those still present with the bird itself!).

We spent about 45 minutes watching behavior. First it was focused on drying off and preening, but as the sun came out, the hawk focused on the hunt. Indeed, it was not impressed by the first large passenger train than went roaring past. It was focused at looking down along the train tracks, sometimes bobbing its head as to give it a different perspective of what it was seeing... and then, suddenly -- and much too fast for me to shoot, it dove down at the train tracks kite-like, with wings held up above the back, and disappeared from sight, and then just as suddenly reappeared and heading back towards the palm grove, but landed much lower down in a smaller and hard-to-see palm, as if it had just caught something. Alas, my flight shot of it heading back (below) does not show if it has anything in its beak or claws, or if this effort was a miss .... but does give a good luck at the rump and tail.

My thought was that the only thing it could have possibly taken -- or tried to take -- along the railroad tracks was perhaps a fence lizard coming out into the now-hot sun. Tonight, on arriving home, I checked Cornell's Birds of North America site for this species (Bibles, Glinski & Johnson 2002), and learned that "Diet almost entirely vertebrates, especially reptiles. Several early descriptions indicated invertebrates taken, but recent studies found invertebrates rare in diet, which is dominated by whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus spp.) and spiny lizard (Sceloporus spp)." Fence lizards are also genus Sceloporus, so that's my guess as to what it is trying to eat here. The railroad corridor may be a good spot for that endeavor.

I also noticed that the hawk was rather impervious to the attempts by American Crows to harass it while it was hunting (left), and it essentially ignored those efforts. The crows dive-bombed a couple of times but gave up. I also liked the warm buff coloration at the rear edge of auriculars on this young bird. It also was unperturbed when a large female Cooper's Hawk flew by. It seemed very focused on the train track corridor and, presumably, lizards . . .




  page created 30 Nov 2012  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved