Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Red-winged Blackbird vs Red-tailed Hawk

Two passing Red-tailed Hawks rest in a tree just hoping to be left alone, but it wasn’t about to be. 

Instead they got a rude reception from several Red-winged Blackbirds whose territory they were trespassing upon.  

I’m guessing they knew they wouldn't be welcome at this time of the year…nesting season, but they came anyway.

Nest robbing birds like hawks, jays and crows, are routinely set upon to encourage them to move away from nesting spaces.

While it’s inevitable that birds will cross other birds' territories as they travel, few nesting birds feel comfortable with Red-tailed Hawks around.

A Mequon meadow is this Red-winged Blackbird's territory and he's very protective of it.  He won't tolerate trespassing and certainly cannot allow two hungry Red-tailed Hawks to rest unchallenged.
The blackbird's distain for hawks is deserved, even if Red-tailed Hawks prefer rabbits and rodents, squirrels and snakes...meatier menu items than baby birds.  Still, it takes some courage to pressure the much larger Red-tailed Hawk to move along.

In response to this threat, he sounds an alarm from his boundary line.  A neighboring male and female respond. As this intrusion cannot be tolerated, a show of force is mustered. 
The three attack the Red-tailed Hawk from behind.

Some birds eat other birds. 
That’s the way it is.  So action must be taken…no matter the odds.  Who would take a chance with a predator in the neighborhood?

Raising a brood to adulthood takes constant vigilance and a serving of luck.  Luck is nice, but Red-wing Blackbirds rely mainly on vigilance and courage. 

Combining nerve and knack, they try to persuade the intruder that it's for his own good he leave. 

Out-matched 40-1 in ounces the trio fearlessly attacks the Red-tailed Hawk. Flying in formation over his back with claws fixed and screaming in his ears, he strangely doesn’t get the message…YOU'RE NOT WELCOME HERE.  He continues to circle, seemingly unaffected by another bird riding on his back. 

So, the blackbird then tries to peck the hawk’s head to force compliance, but still no effect. The hawk just lowers his head to avoid the pecking.

This intrusion took about fifteen minutes with several sorties and rest stops in between, but with no clear winner.  

The Red-tailed Hawk methodically circled the meadow looking for mice, while remaining surprisingly unflustered by the hitchhiking blackbird. 

Eventually the hawk concedes the fight.  Whether it was the lack of mice or intolerable frustration he moved on, as the blackbird rode him out-of-town. 

This may have been a stinging defeat for the hawk or just the cost of doing business in Red-winged Blackbird territory, I can’t say. It just looked to me as if the hawk had done this dance before.  

For the Red-winged Blackbird, he got to claim a victory…at least in his mind. 
With persistence, he forced a larger predator to move on, thereby validating his brilliant strategy and honing his skills as a protector. Meanwhile, he improved his chances of rearing a family with like abilities.