Another Family in the Neighborhood

18 04 2014

I start each day with a short walk. House are dispersed along our road in what was once open farmland.  Some of the fields remain while many large plots have been divided into building lots. This is a typical scenario for this area in Central NY. We lived in another location a little farther north for many years and I was concerned when we moved that I would be giving up the wildlife that I was used to spending my days with. I was pleasantly surprised and often remark how lucky we are to live in such a wild place. The road, yards, farmland, and streams create a variety of habitats and edge zones where wildlife is plentiful.

This morning I saw a many different song birds species, a pair of wood ducks, and a hawk at then end of the road perched on a tree stump. This stump is a favorite perch and I often see raptors sunning there in the morning. As I stood contemplating and observing the hawk you see below I wasn’t 100% convinced that I was looking at a female Northern Harrier. Her back seemed a little dark and I couldn’t see the distinctive facial disc or the white spot at the base of the tail.


Female Northern Harrier Preening

My question was soon answered when I saw a flash of white in my periphery. It was a male Northern Harrier and I anticipated that he would in some way interact with the hawk on the perch so I focused the camera there and was glad I did when he swooped in, landed on her back, and they mated. The following sequence of photographs shows how precarious mating can be for birds as one balances on a rather small perch and the other balances on her back. It is kind of like watching a clown walking a tight-rope. There are lots of exaggerated movements to allow the male to stay in the correct place and successfully mate with the female. (Note: To see a larger version of any picture click on it or go to my Flickr photostream.)


Male Northern Harrier Approaches


Getting Closer


The Landing


The Balancing Act Begins


In order for the cloacae to touch and sperm to be transferred the female must move her tail to the side while the males stays on her back and puts his own tail in position.




Keeping the Balance


Strong feet hold the pair on the perch.


The male departs and female soon follows.

Here is a link to a Cornell Ornithology Lab webpage that gives information about these rather “unusual” hawks. I find it fascinating that a male will mate with up to 5 females in a given area and provide food to all of them while nesting. I wonder how he keeps track of who has eaten.




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