This bird passed almost directly over my head, gliding rapidly with a few wingbeats, not twenty feet above the ground. Its passage came much too fast for me to focus the camera and get a closer shot. Not until I spotted it at some distance, in the northeast corner of the park, was I able to get a focused image, but with limited detail.
I didn’t know what the bird was until I got home and researched it. From the behavior I thought it might be a Northern Harrier. I had seen one of these in the park before, cruising flat and low to the ground, but that bird (which I wasn’t able to photograph) was distinctly brown.
This bird today had the light coloring of a White-tailed Kite, but lacked the black eye patches and had a longer tail. Checking the Cornell bird lab website, I learned that the Northern Harrier male is white and gray with dark wingtips; adult males are known as “gray ghosts.”
Obviously the low-flying bird I had seen previously was a female, which are brown. So, I’m happy to add this adult male Northern Harrier to my list of Cesar Chavez Park visitors.
Hawks are legendary for their sharp eyes. This particular species adds acute hearing to its hunting weapons. Both the Cornell and the Audubon websites say that the Northern Harrier spots its prey sometimes by listening for the sound made by tiny mammalian feet in the underbrush.
Like many other birds here, the harrier breeds in summer in the northern states and in Canada and Alaska, and comes here for the winter.