Aerial Acrobatics

4 04 2014

In February I saw a female northern harrier playing in the wind over a fallow field. She disappeared into the cover of the tall golden grasses and I imagined she would re-emerge with a vole in her talons. I waited with my camera ready but she remained hidden in the grasses. I have not seen a northern harrier in that field again, until today.

It was mid-day when I spotted a dark phase rough-legged hawk hovering over the sun-kissed field. I watched as the hawk maneuvered its wings to hold itself stationary over the ground. It always amazes me how they are able to ride the wind with precision.


Then another hawk appeared. It was an equally adept flyer and apparently an individual the rough-legged hawk had no intention of sparring with. A female norther harrier aggressively flew after the rough-legged until the rough-legged hawk left the area.




The female northern harrier continued to fly high over the landscape until she eventually decreased her altitude and disappeared behind a plot of trees. Once she was no longer occupying the air space the rough-legged hawk returned to finish its business. I watched as the hawk fluttered like a butterfly high above a spot in the field and the quickly dropped into the grass feet first.




It emerged a minute later with its meal and flew off to eat it in peace.


The female norther harrier returned some time later with a male. She was flying high and started off the aerial acrobatics with a steep dive. Then he joined in with a captivating aerial display unlike anything I have seen before. One second he was a small speck in the sky the next he would do a barrel roll, tuck his wings and speed toward the ground only to pull out of the dive at the last second and repeat his amazing acrobatics. I tried to keep up with my camera but the flight was so fast and so erratic that I set it down so I could enjoy the magnificence of what I was seeing. When he was done he landed near where the female landed months ago. The result of this courtship display could be a nest in the dense grass. It will be interesting to see what comes next. 



Note: Here is a link to a video of a male northern harrier doing a courtship display like the one I witnessed today. Check it out!




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