Banded Hunter With Friend and Paperwork

Banded Red-tailed Hawk No. 806 on the left with unbanded friend, probably nest mate. Gérard Menut photo.

Photographer and model glider pilot Gérard Menut captured these images a year ago. He first saw both birds on Sept. 14 2021 when they rose from the Native Plant Area and chased each other in what seemed like play. In the photo above, the bird on the left carries an orange band on its right foot, with the number CA806. This is the same bird that photographers Phil Rowntree and David Hauer separately photographed in the park late last year. See “Supervisor,” Oct. 8 2021, “Banded Hunter” Oct. 14 2021 and “Banded Hunter Returns,” Dec. 24 2021. The unbanded bird on the right in the photo above might be a nestmate, Gerard suspects. The two chased each other playfully. Then the unbanded one peeled off and chased one of the radio-controlled model gliders instead. The glider was smaller than the bird. The bird didn’t attack the glider, but just followed it playfully or with curiosity, and occasionally tried to grab it, without success. Gliders have no motors and no propellers and make no sounds beyond the air passing over their bodies. Their navigational surfaces — the rudder and wing flaps — are under the human pilot’s radio control, and a skilled pilot can make the models do acrobatics in the air, with the hawk — an expert aerial acrobat itself — chasing behind. This went on for a few minutes until the hawk got bored. Neither of the fliers was harmed.

Gerard managed to get clear images of each of the birds in the sky. Both of them had the yellow eyes of young hawks; the eyes turn dark brown as the bird ages. Their youth was later confirmed with the banding paperwork, see below.

Gérard saw the hawks again on Oct. 5, when they were being harassed by a small flock of crows. Crows and hawks have little overlap in their diets — crows can’t take voles and squirrels, the hawks’ main menu items. But crows claim a monopoly over territory and try to drive out birds bigger than themselves. On this occasion, the hawks evaded the crows and focused on hunting ground squirrels. They worked together to chase and then capture one of the squirrels. The banded bird got first bite.

Gerard got a clear read on the one bird’s orange band and sent it to the Patuxent Bird ID center, a branch of the United States Geological Survey (USGS). He got the response that this bird was banded near Windsor CA, a town in Sonoma County about 60 miles north of Berkeley, in August 2021. It was hatched the same year but the exact date of hatching is not given; it would have been in spring or early summer. The person doing the banding was Russel W. Odell, a staff wildlife biologist employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in Sacramento. The USGS sent Gerard a certificate of appreciation for his report on the “806” bird.

Gerard is a member of the Tuesday glider club that meets on the hill just north of the Native Plant Area. See “Happy Soarheads,” May 9 2017. They’ve been there for something like 25 years or more. I’m grateful to him not only for the great photos but also for spotting the band on this hawk and knowing what to do with the information. When the first photos of this bird came in last fall, we knew we could and probably should report it, but had no idea where. Thanks to Gerard, the next time we see a banded bird we know what to do.

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