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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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. 

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Note: Here is a link to a video of a male northern harrier doing a courtship display like the one I witnessed today. http://www.arkive.org/northern-harrier/circus-cyaneus/video-09a.html Check it out!

 


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