The Foothills Clusters--- Tucson, AZ

Raptor Free Flight- from the afternoon "demo"

by Dan Weisz

Web presentation by Douglas Everett at Hummingbird Market

Raptor Free Flight flies different species in their afternoon demonstrations than they fly in the mornings.  Here are a few of the birds featured:

Usually a Peregrine Falcon leads off the demo, but I did not get any shots of it this week.  The Gray Hawk is often the next bird.  Gray Hawks are sub-tropical raptors that live from northern Mexico south all the way into Argentina.  They do not migrate, but at the ‘top’ of their range, several hundred do cross the border every spring to breed and raise young in southern Arizona.  They prefer riparian areas and are also expanding their range into the canyons all along and above the rivers of our Sky Islands, as well as other lower mountains throughout southern Arizona.  After raising their young, most of them return to Mexico in September and October for the winter.

A Barn Owl is a regular at RFF.  This species has the best high-frequency hearing of any animal tested by scientists.  They hunt based on hearing alone, unlike most other owls who use their hearing and their night vision.  Barn owls specialize in hunting rodents.  Their hearing is so refined they can identify their prey by the sound it makes running, scratching or even chewing.

Flying slowly and silently on long wings, the barn owl will “forage” over fields listening for prey sounds.  When it hears prey, it flies towards it, hovers overhead, lowers its legs, and then parachutes down onto the unsuspecting prey.

With Halloween approaching, we can thank Barn owls for our ideas about what ghosts look like.  Think of a white face floating through the air silently with dark, brown eyes and blood-curdling screams, and you have yourself a “ghost”.  Barn owls hunting in cemeteries and roosting in abandoned buildings probably led to our sense of what a ghost was and what a ghost looked and sounded like.  Imagine yourself on an old country road in the middle of the night when you hear the screams in this link  and then saw this white face appear out of the dark flying silently past you.  

The last group of birds to fly in Raptor Free Flight afternoon demos are a family of Harris’s Hawks.  Harris’s Hawks are the only raptors to have evolved to hunt in a family group of up to seven birds, making them feathered wolf-packs of the sky.  They only hunt in these large family groups in the Southwest.  In the rest of their range (all the way down to South America), they hunt singly or at times in mated pairs.

After catching a quail’s head tossed in the air, this Harris’s Hawk is taking it to a perch on a saguaro where it will enjoy its treat.