Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Hawk and the Owl

It was a coldish but beautiful February day to for a walk along the trails of Pheasant Branch Conservancy in search of winter birds. Perhaps better than toasty-toes, the warming songs of Black-capped Chickadees and Northern Cardinals were omnipresent throughout the woods for the duration of the 3-hour hike. Even a handsome White-throated Sparrow serenaded trail goers with a flawless rendition of his sweet and wistful Poor Sam Peabody song. But the tranquility was about to be interrupted.

Interesting things that happen between creatures of the woods are usually witnessed by pure chance; just a minute early or late is all it takes to miss it. With a nod to The Lord of the Rings, a birder is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to, and today it meant watching a rather aggressive skirmish between a Red-tailed Hawk and Great Horned Owl.

The trouble maker!

I don't know what prompted the owl to leave his cozy roosting spot, but he dashed like a bullet across the creek. Before he could reach his target branch, the hawk, which was perched atop a large oak tree, swooped down in an attempt to break the owl's landing. The owl's evasive maneuvering wasn't all that graceful, but he managed to keep his footing and ruffled his feathers once he regained his balance. The hawk's quarrel was far from over and continued to harass the perched owl for the next several minutes. When the hawk would connect and make physical contact, the owl would fly to a different perch. This chase kept on until the owl perched into a dense conifer where the hawk was unable to reach him. Within sight of each other, the two powerful birds rested for a while. Perhaps realizing it could no longer get at the source of his aggression, the hawk finally left the owl in peace. My guess is this Great Horned Owl, presumably a male, was fulfilling his role as a sentinel for a nearby female on a nest and was leading the hawk away.

Back to business!

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Feb 12, 2012 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM
26 species

Canada Goose
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2012 Mike McDowell

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