Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Long Island Red-tail and The Starlings

Today, Saturday, was spent in Huntington, Long Island. At about 11:30 AM, standing in an open grassy area surrounded by small patches of woods, a Red-tail appeared in the sky soaring in everchanging circles above the trees. She continued on, in what I've come to think, from watching Red-tails in other RT behavioral situations, is an observation mission about prey. She then disappeared out of sight to the north, behind trees.

At 3:11PM, a mature Red-tail, conceivably the one seen in the morning, appeared in the east followed closely by a flock of approximately 50 Starlings. My initial thought was that the hawk was being mobbed by Starlings. But in a moment I saw that wasn't true. There were none of the frenetic dives and individual actions seen in mobbing. The Starlings were following a little above and behind the Red-tail in a very structured, precise pattern. They continued to adjust , to bank and weave in swift formation which kept them, no matter the hawk's flying pattern, just a little behind and a little above the raptor.

Why? Did it give them the best protection in that moment in regards to predation by the Red-tail?

When Pale Male Jr. demonstrated his "on the wing" pigeon nabbing technique to Little, after flushing the pigeons off the rooftops, chasing them into a united circling flock at full speed, he then slowed down, waited for the pigeons to catch up, then turned on a dime in midair to come back at them and possibly procure lunch. But these birds though close behind the hawk, were also above her, always, making the quick reverse move much less satisfactory in capturing prey due to the difference in altitude.

A Red-tail does not gain much altitude without time for the effort of flapping, or in this case by the Red-tail's precise timing of catching just the right updraft at just the right moment of the about face. Starlings being faster in abrupt changes of altitude , the close but above position just might be a safer position for them then some others they could take . That is, if she even knew the Pale Male Dynasty technique of the mid-air instantaneous turn back.

Something to watch. Please let me know if you can add anything from your observations of Red-tails or Starlings to the matter.



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