Hawk Behaviour

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Not many people like the Harrier Hawk, but they fit into the nature's cycle.

Submitted: August 18, 2016

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Submitted: August 18, 2016



As a nipper I often used to watch the Harrier Hawk circling high in the sky, but I didn’t really know much about them because they are so secretive and nobody I spoke to could tell me anything about them except that they came from Australia. I never ever found a nest.

In the spring the Harrier, that’s it’s official name, flies in high circles, catching updrafts, calling a ‘scree, scree’ sound either to its mate, or to attract one, come to think of it, even today I’m not too sure which it is. Nowadays I often watch them as I go about my daily work at home, on the farm, especially during spring when the equinox winds give them extra lift.

The Harrier is described as a bird of prey, Raptor, but I’ve never seen one actually hunting for live food or swooping in for an attack like a Falcon does, but no doubt they do kill small birds, lizards and perhaps the odd mouse. Most usually it is a scavenger, so is most often seen cruising the roads looking road-kill.

One time circa 1962 when I was working at Kakahu Forest, a Harrier feeding on road-mashed rabbit, was too slow to fly off, striking the edge between my windscreen and car roof! Sometimes their talons are caught up in the carcass, which slows their take-off. Unfortunately this one was killed instantly!

I screeched to a stop to inspect the bird, no so much in the hope of reviving it, more because it was a chance to feel the sharpness of it’s beak and talons. After all it’s not often anyone has the chance to actually hold one! I found the carcass was much lighter than I expected because there is not much meat on those hollow bones.

Perhaps it was the devil in me, or just youthful exuberance, but I didn’t discard the carcass, instead I took it back to where I was camping with six other forestry trainees. ’Way past 9:00am on a Sunday morning is far too late for anyone to be rotting in bed, but Gordie was still there, peacefully piling up the zeds! Magnanimously and in a friendly way, I gave him the dead bird as a sleeping companion! But Gordie didn’t seem to see the funny side at all! On the other hand, I thought it was absolutely bloody hilarious and for weeks I didn’t let him forget about sleeping with some scrawny bird!

Fast forward some fifty-odd years when I was out on my usual evening patrol to control pesky feral rabbits, I shot five of the furry little buggers and as usual left them as Harrier fodder. For me, knocking off rabbits has been a job, duty if you like, so one rabbit lying dead in the open, about fifteen metres away from me was not unusual or mood changing, so because it was a pleasant evening, I sat under some oak trees, to scan for yet more bunnies. Silently there came the cautious swoop of a Harrier to check out the rabbit carcass! I just continued sitting there quietly to watch what was about to unfold because although Harriers have exceptional eyesight I didn’t think this one had seen me. Cautiously the bird made three or four swoops before landing perhaps three metres from the rabbit. It is likely he spotted me as soon as he landed because he just stood there motionless checking me out, probably looking for any sign of movement.

I sat still as a stone.

Slowly the Harrier took steps toward the rabbit, all the time keeping a watchful eye on me. He took two pecks at the rabbit’s fur and then looked steadily at me, then after each couple of pecks, he checked on me again – ever cautious he was. I was so close, I clearly saw that a few feathers on the top-back of the bird’s head were white, something unusual and recognizable for future identification, if that’s a valuable thing. Maybe I’ve watched too much David Attenborough!

He carefully stepped over top of the rabbit carcass to position his own body so he could take a peck and then look directly at me, I suppose he did this out of natural caution and protection. But as happens at inappropriate times when you don’t want to move, I had to scratch my nose! The Harrier picked up on the movement and did not take another peck, he just stood there glaring, frozen and alert! Stiff bones and running out of patience, I rose slowly to my feet and the very instant I moved, the Harrier flew off.

Somehow I expected a bird like that, armed with talons and a sharp beak might be prepared to defend it’s meal, however it seemed timid and very cautious.

I had no doubt that once I was out of sight, the Harrier would have returned and as the summer progressed, whenever I was out with my rifle, there was the harrier, soaring high, keeping a sharp eye for another easy meal.


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