Kite Hovering

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) Jan 7 2023

On my walk to visit the Burrowing Owl on January 7, this White-tailed Kite hovered over the Nature Area, some hundred steps or more before the owl’s location. This kite held its position in mid-air for many seconds, giving me a photographic treat. I’ve seen kites kiting a number of times, but rarely had one hold its spot for so long. On reviewing the film, I see that the bird very likely noticed the man and the strange black apparatus on the ground. The bird looked directly at me several times. But it decided I was (a) not good to eat and (b) not a danger to eat it, so it ignored me. On this particular segment of its morning outing, the bird did not catch anything. It was very likely looking for voles, the mainstay of its diet.

The hovering method as shown in the video is obviously very energy costly. In stronger wind, the kite (and similar birds, such as the Red-tailed Hawk) can hold its position with little or no flapping of the wings.

Ornithologists who have studied the kite’s foraging report that each hunting flight lasts on the average 6 to 7 minutes, after which the bird will perch and rest. In Northern California, it takes the kite an average of 18 minutes’ flight to capture one prey. In Chile, where White-tailed Kites are also seen, it takes 34 minutes. On an average day, the kite needs 3 voles or equivalent to keep up its energy level. During breeding season, if there is a nest with chicks, it takes more.

In the spring of 2019, a pair of White-tailed Kites made a nest and hatched a quartet of chicks high in a tree in the parking lot of the Hilton Doubletree Hotel. The local crows attacked the chicks mercilessly. See “Murder by Crows,” May 5 2019. Next year, the kites tried again, and again suffered debilitating crow attacks, but one chick probably survived. Possibly this is the bird I saw hovering now. Here’s what it looked like as a fledgling in the nest facing a marauding crow nearly three years ago:

White-tailed Kite chick on May 12, 2020

Speaking of raptors, Park visitor Feliciana Feller sent me these two photos she took January 7 of a bigger raptor, very likely a Red-tailed Hawk. It perched atop the Barn Owl box along the east side of the park and then flew off in a southerly direction, away from the Burrowing Owl’s position. Red-tailed Hawks are easily big enough to kill a Burrowing Owl, if they could catch one. But in all the years that people have observed Burrowing Owls in the park, not once has a bird of prey succeeded in taking an owl. The owls are raptors themselves, wise in raptor tricks. The owls have excellent vision and lighting reflexes for escape. It probably helps that there is a lot more meat on a Ground Squirrel.

Burrowing Owl Update

The Burrowing Owl around 9 this morning, January 10, stood out in the rain in Perch B. At that time, the owl looked wet but not thoroughly soaked, and my guess is that it spent most of the night in a sheltered spot in the rocks and emerged only recently. There were moments of intense downpour but the steady state was light rain, even drizzle. Occasionally blue holes opened up and the sun beamed through. After I left the park, the promised thunderstorm arrived on the scene. The owl, like we humans, is going to see quite a bit more weather before it’s done.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Jan 10 2023

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