Bird of the Week #15: Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole Eats a Bug

I almost gave up. I told this story already in an update, but it bears repeating. I had the Baltimore Oriole set up as a Bird of the Week months ago and had to keep bumping it over and over. I set up an Oriole Feeder complete with oranges and grape jelly, the stuff they love. But they never came. I kept waiting and waiting, but the jelly remained untouched. I figured that if they hadn’t found my feeder by now, they wouldn’t this year and I would just have to try again.

I tossed the oranges into the field and put the oriole feeder away. Oh well.

I got to work cleaning out the rest of the feeders, as I am adamant gets done, and when I sat down to let everything dry, a beautiful black and orange bird landed in the field and started to chow down on the oranges. I couldn’t believe it. An oriole came by after all! I put the oriole feeder back where it belongs. I still have yet to see one use my oriole feeder, but it’s there.

The only other time I’ve seen an oriole in my yard is when a female passed by and grabbed a few mulberries from the tree. That tree has turned into quite the destination!

In the meantime, I sought out alternative means of capturing enough pictures of a Baltimore Oriole to make this post. I took multiple trips to the Sedgwick County Park specifically hunting orioles and I found them! In each instance, the orioles were out looking for fruit or bugs high up in the trees. I grabbed as many shots as I could, with two of the pictures being among my favorites I have ever taken.

The Baltimore Oriole was not named for the city of Baltimore and also not named for the baseball team. Instead, both the bird and city were named for Lord Baltimore, the first propriety of the Province of Maryland (which would later become the state). The bird got its name from its orange color resembling the orange Lord Baltimore’s coat of arms.

In Kansas, the Baltimore Oriole is a summer visitor. Kansas is in the far southwestern corner of their breeding range, so we’re lucky to get these gorgeous Halloween-colored birds. In the winter, they migrate back down south to Central America, South America, and even the southern parts of Florida.

Baltimore Orioles are in the New World blackbird family, meaning they share a family with grackles, meadowlarks, and cowbirds, among others. Funny enough, none of the birds listed are truly black. They also have zero actual relation to the true Common Blackbird from Europe. Bird names can be very confusing.

Baltimore Orioles typically eat a diet of fruits and insects. You can spot them in trees and shrubs, looking for their favorite foods. They really like berries, but only dark ones. Orioles will ignore and light-colored berries, even if it’s perfectly ripe and good to eat. The most common way to get orioles to drop by your yard is to feed them grape jelly. Any dark-colored, sweet jelly should work as the orioles are attracted to both the color and sweetness. Please, try and feed them natural jellies without added sugars as this is healthier for the birds.

Orioles also like orange halves. Orioles will use their beaks like straws to suck all the goodness out of the oranges by stabbing their bills into the fruit and then opening them slightly to suck the juice out. Yum!

In exception for mating season, Orioles will almost always be found alone. While it’s not beyond imagination to see several orioles at once, you’re most likely to just get one visitor at a time.

Orioles won’t nest in nest boxes, so getting an oriole nest is a matter of luck and having the right types of trees around. The females weave a hanging pouch nest out of any plant material they can find. They only do one clutch per year, with usually about four eggs.

Speaking of males and females, the difference between a male and female oriole is easy to spot. The males are a much richer, more reddish orange color. The males also more pronounced black and white parts on their backs, while the females are duller more gray on their backs. You’ll see both the male and female in detail in the gallery below!

Baltimore Orioles are wonderful singers and if you go out looking for them, you’re likely to hear them before you see them. They will probably be high up and might be tough to spot among all the foliage. When you do spot one, you’ll see them moving around a whole bunch, doing all sorts of acrobatics. They’ll go upside down, sideways, and do all sorts of leaping and dangling acts. A hungry oriole can be quite fun to watch!

I’m so excited to be able to show you guys the orioles and tell you about them. Hopefully you’ve learned something! Do you see orioles in your back yards?

Here is the Audubon Society page on the Baltimore Oriole

Here is the Cornell Lab or Ornithology page on the Baltimore Oriole

Please enjoy the mini-gallery below!

The Fledglings Are Here!

Bluebird Baby #1

I’ve been a little depressed the past few weeks because it seemed like the Bluebirds just vanished. At least Mr. Bluebird would drop by several times a day, even if there were no tasty mealworms for him and his family. I got sick for a few days and wasn’t able to refill the feeders, so I thought that maybe he’d decided to look for his favorites elsewhere.

But I was wrong!

I sat down for breakfast this morning when I looked out the window and saw Mr. Bluebird was back. I didn’t put any mealworms out, so I thought he might just be passing through, but I noticed he was just sitting on a tree, watching out. This wasn’t normal behavior for Mr. Bluebird, who usually never stopped and kept a constant move-on.

I couldn’t have been more excited when I realized what he was doing. I looked closely at the mulberry tree in the yard and realized there were not one, but two little Bluebird fledglings snacking on berries!

I jumped in my car right away and sped off to Lowe’s to pick up some mealworms to maybe help the little guys along. Bluebirds will stay close to their young after the fledge to help teach them how to find food. Keeping that in mind, I couldn’t help but feel like Mr. Bluebird was taking the kids out to his favorite restaurant.

They certainly seemed to enjoy the mulberries, as they kept coming back for more and more of the sweet treats. I sat down on my patio, camera in hand, and just watched the new little visitors. They were so cute!

I haven’t named them yet, but they’re definitely siblings. They got into little squabbles with one another over who knows what, but stayed close together. Mom and dad were always close by, keeping a sharp eye in case of any trouble. I’m not sure what gender the two are, but they have somewhat different coloration. I’ll have to keep an eye on them and see how they look as they grow up. I hope they don’t stray too far and turn into regular patrons of my bird feeders.

Normally, I’d reserve an article like this for a Friday update post, but I felt like this development needed to be mentioned as soon as possible!

Do you have any suggestions for names for the little ones? Please, enjoy the pictures below!

Weekly Update #13: Oriole at Last

Female Baltimore Oriole

We need to find a new name for these weekly posts. “Feeder update” doesn’t work anymore because I’m getting more and more shots outside of my backyard. A sizeable chunk of what I shot this week actually came from the Sedgwick County Park and I already have some for next week that also came out of the park. There are far more opportunities to get birds in their natural environments at the park, plus a larger variety, potentially.

The highlight of my birding week was finally getting a great picture of a Baltimore Oriole. This particular example was a female who I caught munching on some tasty mulberries. Her mate was around, but didn’t stay long enough to get his picture taken. Either way, she was strikingly orange and a gorgeous bird on her own.

In other oriole news, I spotted orioles visiting two different times in the last two weeks. The first time happened when I was ready to give up. I was cleaning out my birdfeeders when I noticed bugs crawling all over the oriole feeder, so I decided to give up the oriole feeder for the year. So, I took it down and put it away. I tossed the orange halves into the field behind the and sat down to let everything dry. I looked back up and, sure enough, there was an oriole snacking on the oranges in the field. I spoke too soon! I put the oriole feeder right back up.

I still haven’t seen an oriole actually visit the oriole feeder, but I did see one eat the mulberries on my tree, so I know they’re around. Hopefully I can get a good picture when I get back to backyard shooting next week.

You’ll also see a Blue Jay, some goldfinches, some of the male Downy Woodpecker, the Barn Swallows, a Northern Cardinal, Mr. and Mrs. Bobwhite, Mallards, a grackle, and a couple of a few Western Kingbirds. I’ve been really trying to get good pictures of the kingbirds for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, they like to chill out high in the trees where it’s tough to get really sharp images.

Anyway, please enjoy the photos. They’re all captioned, so please click to learn more about them!

Bird of the Week #14: Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow on the Ground

Continuing the trend of doing something a little different, this week we’ll be looking at what one of my good friends calls avian fighter jets. And that’s an apt description! Go outside in an open area during a warm summer or spring day and you’ll probably see these little birds with forked tails performing all sorts of aerial acrobatics, swooping and diving. They’re quite the sight!

Barn Swallows are a summer-only bird in all of North America. During the cold months, they migrate down south, going as far as the southern tip of Argentina. Barn Swallows are incredible migrators, with an even more incredible sense of geography. Barn Swallows will return to nest at the exact same spot they did in the previous year. Case in point, Frank and Deborah.

Barn Swallow Couple
Barn Swallows have an amazing ability to latch onto any surface, like Spider-Bird!

I got to know Frank and Deborah last year at work where I observed a Barn Swallow couple build a nest, lay eggs, and hatch and raise fledglings all from start to finish. It was wonderful experience! And, to my delight, Frank and Deborah returned and have rebuilt their nest at the exact same spot as they did last year.

How do I know it’s the exact same birds? Come to think of it, I really have no way of being 100% sure, but after doing some reading on Barn Swallows and seeing that the nest is in exactly the same spot, I’m inclined to believe these are the same two birds. Besides, it’s way more fun to think that Frank and Deborah have returned to the very same spot!

Why Frank and Deborah? They told me, duh.

Let’s talk about the birds in general.

Barn Swallows are insectivores, meaning they eat nothing but bugs. They won’t eat just any bugs. Barn swallows eat their bugs almost exclusively from the air, seldomly grabbing them from water or plants. Remember how I told you they maneuver around like fighter jets? That’s how they capture their prey. The Barn Swallow will use its excellent vision to detect an insect flying through the air then swoop in for the attack. Bugs are moving targets though and some can move unpredictably. The Barn Swallow is ready, though, with its aerodynamic body and special forked tail designed to make it turn on a dime.

Barn Swallows build their nests on human structures, most famously on barns, thus their name. In days past, they would construct their mud and stick nests on cliffs or in caves, but our buildings are just easier for them to work with. Unlike rocks, the walls we build are perfectly straight and have little variation. Look for Barn Swallow nests in shady parts on buildings close to open fields or bodies of water. They like having a lot of bugs around and they like having a lot of room to practice their acrobatics.

Barn Swallow Flying
I must have taken a hundred blurry pictures of these two in flight, trying to get just one decent one.

Watching them build their nests is fascinating. The owners of the building where Frank and Deborah built theirs tore it down after they migrated back down south, so they had to rebuild this year. They grab lots and lots of mud, making little round “bricks” and sticking them together to the wall. They’ll use twigs and straw bits to help stick it all together. Eventually, all of this will come together to make a clay bowl where they’ll raise their young.

I find Barn Swallows gorgeous. Their navy blue topsides and light brown undersides make them pleasing to my eye. You can differentiate males and females by the undersides, with females being more white on the bottom. The boys will be more of a brown or cinnamon color.

I’ve been excited to do a Barn Swallow post for a while now, but I just haven’t come up with the pictures to make it worthwhile. I’ll definitely more of Frank and Deborah in the weeks to come, and hopefully there will be some pictures of their chicks!

What do you think of Barn Swallows? Do you see them in your area?

Cornell Lab page on Barn Swallows

Audubon Society page on Barn Swallows

Side note: for the first time ever, I’m including a mini-gallery below of pictures I’ve taken of the week’s bird. Please let me know what you think! I’m not opposed to eventually going back and fixing up old Bird of the Week posts, if y’all appreciate having this as a feature.

Safflower: The Secret Weapon

What if I told you there was a bird seed that the whopping majority of songbirds love, but grackles, starlings, and even squirrels hate? Sounds too good to be true, you say. It isn’t. Safflower seeds are my secret weapon to keeping the pests at bay!

If you recall the Official Bird Seed Tier List, I gave safflower an A-tier position with only Black Stripe Sunflower seeds reaching the S-tier slot. Safflower isn’t S-tier due to its price and that it generally does not attract as many birds as sunflower, though if it was cheaper, I could see myself moving safflower to A-tier.

If you’re someone who’s gotten sick of pests and wants to try safflower, you may need to try a few tricks to convince the birds to make the switch. Safflower is rarely included in bird seed blends so the birds may not know what to do with safflower if it’s offered exclusively. What you can do to get your feathered friends is to mix safflower in with your regular offerings. Start putting more and more safflower in until that’s all you’re serving.

Chickadee with a peanut
My favorites, the chickadees, seem to love safflower!

Birds are creatures of habit and will recognize your feeders as a place to get food. Eventually they’ll come around to giving safflower a try and they’ll start eating it.

I’ve watched cardinals, chickadees, and finches all enjoy safflower, to name a few. Cardinals especially seem to love it!

Unless I’m trying to attract as many birds as possible for photography, my tray feeders are generally stocked with safflower exclusively. The caged squirrel-proof feeder which excludes the pests anyway will be stocked with more “treat” seeds while the tray serves the bigger birds with safflower. It’s a winning setup that only seems to exclude Blue Jays, who don’t seem to care for safflower.

If you like having larger feeders where many birds can share at once, but have trouble with bully birds or squirrels, you need to give safflower seeds a try! Allegedly, chipmunks will go after safflower, so if they’re you’re trouble, this won’t solve your problem. Putting up a baffle might be your best bet, or you could try using hot sauce or cayenne pepper powder in conjunction with safflower. The birds can’t taste the spiciness but rodents hate it.

There are two varieties of safflower seeds: white and golden. The golden is also sold as NutraSaff and was actually specially developed as a bird seed. According to Safflower Technologies International, which apparently is a thing, NutraSaff was designed by scientists to make safflower more appetizing to birds. The shells on NutraSaff are thinner and there is more oil, fat, and protein, making NutraSaff more nutritious for birds. STI also claims that birds are more attracted to NutraSaff than standard safflower.

The biggest drawback is price. Safflower is more expensive than sunflower, with NutraSaff being both more expensive and harder to find. But if you don’t mind paying a few extra bucks, safflower and NutraSaff are a win-win.

A Visit to the Great Plains Nature Center

It finally happened! I managed to visit the Great Plains Nature Center. The experience was fantastic and I can’t wait to go back again, hopefully spending more time being still, stationary, and waiting. This time, we just walked through, pausing whenever we spotted something, but not actually stopping to wait and hunt for birds. Besides the GPNC itself, we also took a stop at Riverside Park downtown to see the animals on display there.

The Great Plains Nature Center has a visitor’s center complete with exhibits and even a few live animals you can see. The first was an American Kestrel who was illegally raised by humans and, as such, incapable of living in the wild due largely to dependence. GPNC acquired the kestrel and has cared for it since. There was also an owl, a turtle, some frogs, and a sizeable collection of taxidermy animals.

The exhibits cover all of the various major types of habitats in Kansas, including wetlands, grasslands, and forest. There’s a large aquarium where you can see a bunch of local fish, as well as taxidermy examples of the various animals you might find, including birds.

There’s also a viewing room with large windows overlooking a pond and a gigantic birdfeeder. From there, I observed a Great Blue Heron, some kind of sandpiper, mallards, and a Wild Turkey. The turkey was super close to the glass and I got great shots of him.

After that, we walked the longest of the trails, stopping to try find wildlife. I saw quite a few baby mallards and snapped pictures where I could. We spotted a couple of big bullfrogs and some turtles.

As far as birds go, I photographed mallards and Canada Geese. You’ll see pictures of Purple Martins, a Baltimore Oriole, and a Chipping Sparrow. I also managed to get a picture of a Yellow Warbler, but we spotted him at Riverside Park.

At Riverside, there was a beaver on display, who was fun to watch as he ate a bunch of fruits and veggies. You’ll also see the various birds of prey and waterfowl they had on display. I don’t like focusing much on animals in captivity. It feels like cheating getting their pictures. Even so, they’re all neat and kept in captivity out of necessity rather than simply for display reasons. Most of the critters at Riverside are injured in some way or otherwise incapable of survival in the wild.

In different news, I’m investing as much time as I can practicing both taking photos and then editing them. I have experience in Photoshop, but editing in RAW is a new animal. It’s amazing what I can do to save otherwise iffy photos or really bring out the most in my shots. I’m still very new at this, though. My pictures are never as sharp as I want them to be and lighting is especially tricky for me. Still, I’m getting better. I have a few pictures ready for next week’s batch and I already think those are better than these. We’ll see what you think!

Like I said before, I’m excited to return and spend more time with more patience. I’m still quite new with my camera and trying to learn how to get the best shots. The parks gave me an excellent chance to practice and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor!

Bird of the Week #13: Great Blue Heron

We’re going to do something a little different this week. Raptor Week is over and now we’re back to regularly scheduled content. However, instead of talking about yet another backyard bird, I wanted to cover something excited that happened! This week, the Bird of the Week is the Great Blue Heron, which you might actually attract to your backyard with a decently sized pond or other body of water. Herons don’t come to my yard, but I did have a very up-close encounter with one.

Unlike previous weeks, the photos here are all cell phone photos. I didn’t have my camera with me when I took them.

An Off-Duty Bentley PD officer and a Sedgwick County Deputy work to catch the poor heron to rescue him

I was out in the sticks close to Mount Hope, northwestern Sedgwick County, when I saw a Great Blue Heron in the river. There was a bullfrog in its mouth, but the heron wasn’t swallowing it. I looked a little bit closer and released there was a bunch of twine tied around its beak. The bullfrog escaped and the heron wasn’t able to open or close its mouth.

Mount Hope Police as well as a Sedgwick County Sheriff deputy came out to help catch the bird and you can see a volunteer officer as well as the deputy who helped out. The bird resisted, walking up and down the bank of the river to avoid us, but it wasn’t flying away. There was no telling how long it had the twine around its beak and it was probably weak from not having eaten anything. We managed to catch it and it didn’t put up a fight as we worked to cut the twine away.

Once it was finally cut away and the bird was free, it seemed stunned. It was still not moving much and didn’t take off, like I thought it might. My thought was that it was afraid and stunned in fear. We left the bird alone as soon as we could so it could hopefully snap out of it and find something to eat.

It was cool getting to be up close to more of an “exotic” bird rather than the little guys I’m used to seeing at my birdfeeders. There was also something special about getting to touch it.

Anyway, let’s talk about the bird!

Great Blue Herons are found throughout pretty much all of North America, as far south as South America and as far north as Alaska. They’re large birds with long necks, long sharp beaks, big yellow eyes, and stand on stilt-like legs. They’re often found standing on the shores of rivers, lakes, and all kinds of wetlands where they hunt for food. They eat practically whatever they can find, including crustaceans, fish, ducklings, reptiles, amphibians, and even rodents. They like to swallow their food whole, so they’re generally limited by whatever actually fits in their mouths.

Poor guy was a little frazzled after all that, but I think he’ll be alright!

Herons are usually found solitary, but breed in colonies. They build their nests in places difficult to reach on foot, protecting their young from non-swimmers. They are not monogamous for longer than a breeding year and, even then, are only “socially” monogamous, meaning they’ll happily “cheat” on their mates.

Down in Florida, there is a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron called the Great White Heron. Beyond the white coloration, they don’t differ by much and it hasn’t been settled yet whether or not the white herons are a different species altogether.

You’ve probably seen a Great Blue Heron at some point in your life. They’re numerous and common wetland birds, though that does not discount that they’re beautiful and interesting as well.

What do you think of Great Blue Herons? Do you have any neat experiences with them? Let me know!

A Visit to the Eagle Valley Raptor Center

This post is a day late and I apologize. I’ve been in bed sick the last few days and just couldn’t muster the mental strength to write this up.

Anyway, this will be an atypical Friday post in that, besides it coming on Saturday, it will not talk about my bird feeders or my backyard visitors at all. Instead, I’m going to show you all of the pictures from my visit to the Eagle Valley Raptor Center and tell you a little more about what I saw.

The Eagle Valley Raptor Center is located north of Central on 343rd St W. The actual raptor center is literally at its director, Ken Lockwood’s home. Call them at (316) 393-0710 to set up a tour just like mine.

Ken himself put on the tour for us and the first thing we noticed right away was the bucket he was holding and the dog with no eyes accompanying him. I can’t remember the dog’s name, but she was friendly as can be and a rescue. The poor dog lost her eyes after being abused and abandoned by previous owners. Luckily Ken was there to give her a better life! Anyway, the dog was excited which Ken chalked up to “smelling the mice.”

At first we thought that since we were near open fields, the dog must be smelling field mice. Well, no, Ken’s bucket actually contained a whole bunch of dead mice for feeding the birds. It was kind of gross at first, but you get used to it.

Ken took us around the various enclosures showing us all the neat birds he has on display. If you click the various pictures below, the species is listed in the description. We got to see two Red-tailed Hawks, an American Kestrel, a Great Horned Owl, an African Horned Owl, a Turkey Vulture, a Bald Eagle, a Golden Eagle, a Harris’s Hawk, a Barred Owl, and three Screech Owls. We got to give food to most of them!

Ken explained the some of the residents, like the Great Horned Owl, were unfriendly to humans and shouldn’t be fed. He told us that this is how he prefers the animals, since that means they can be rehabilitated and released into the wild once they’ve healed. Unfortunately, some of the birds were too injured to be released and it was just fine for them to be accustomed to humans.

One example was Wazoo the Bald Eagle who had lived at the EVRC for 22 years! Wazoo became excited as Ken called his name, knowing that a little rodent treat was on its way! Ken let us into the enclosure with Wazoo where I was able to give him mice and take some awesome up-close pictures. While, of course, petting Wazoo was a horrible idea, getting to see such a cool bird up close was amazing.

We got even closer to Hannah Montana, the Harris’s Hawk. Hannah was extremely vocal and even flew right onto our arms to eat a mouse. It was extraordinary getting to touch a bird like that.

Finally, we got very close to Herman Munster the Turkey Vulture. Herman was surprisingly the calmest and most docile of all. Sure, he’s ugly, but I have a new respect for vultures.

What Ken does for these birds is incredible. The birds he cares for would honestly have no hope of living if not for the Eagle Valley Raptor Center. I hope to return soon so I can see all these cool birds again.

Bird of the Week #12: Bald Eagle

Benjamin Franklin famously did not like the Bald Eagle as a choice for the national bird of the United States of America. There’s an old urban legend floating around that he advocated for the turkey, but there’s no evidence of this. He did, however, write:

“For my own part. I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly … besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.”

To his credit, he’s right, in a way. Bald Eagles are opportunistic and do not hunt quite like the falcons or most hawks. They have no issue eating recently killed prey and won’t spend a lot of time stalking. They are not the most sportsmanlike of raptors.

They actually look kinda funny from the front!

But by golly are they beautiful.

There is no bird of prey more easily identifiable than the Bald Eagle. Their white head feathers over their brown bodies with white tails, their angry scowls, and their fearsome beaks and talons make them stand apart. I do not believe there is any raptor more beautiful and majestic in appearance than the Bald Eagle.

Though they opportunistic hunters bordering on being scavengers, Bald Eagles have no problem defending themselves. They are larger than most birds and their talons and sharp beaks make them dangerous. They’ll even attack humans if their territories – and especially their nests — are threatened.

Bald Eagles prefer fish as their main food source. However, they’ll also eat just about any other meat they can get their talons on. Their second favorite food is other birds, mostly sea birds. They won’t spend a great deal of time stalking or chasing prey, instead going after slower, larger birds like Mallards, grebes, or Canada Geese. They’ll also eat mammals. There are over 400 recorded species that Bald Eagles will eat. They are not picky.

We almost lost the Bald Eagle. I don’t think people realize just how close we got to Bald Eagles being completely extinct in the wild. This was due to a pesticide called DDT that would thin egg shells, causing Bald Eagle eggs to become so weak that they couldn’t withstand an adult brooding on them. Even someone who has the most basic of bird knowledge knows that brooding is a completely essential part of raising eggs into chicks.

In 1972, DDT was outlawed. In addition, several other regulations were put in place to protect eagles. Due to this, Bald Eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 1995. They are now not even considered threatened with the eagles thriving so much in some areas that they are considered a pest!

Wazoo grabs a snack!

The Bald Eagle proves that humans can cause damage to the environment. Sometimes this damage is permanent. Think of the dodo or the Carolina Parakeet. We will never get to see these birds. The Bald Eagle was almost the same. But their rebound from the brink of extinction shows that we can make a difference. The cause for saving the birds we do have is not lost. Let’s do our parts!

I would be remiss not to talk about Wazoo, the Bald Eagle from all of the pictures. Like the other two featured birds, Wazoo is a permanent resident at Eagle Valley Raptor Center. Wazoo was originally from North Carolina where he suffered a debilitating wing injury. You might notice in some of the pictures he holds his wing kind of funny. Wazoo can still fly, but only for short distances. Wazoo would not survive in the wild and have lived in captivity for over twenty years. Despite this, I’m convinced Wazoo lives the best life he can live at EVRC. It was an absolute delight feeding him mice and watching him in his enclosure. We even got to go in and get super close!

Tell me what you think!

Bird of the Week #11: Harris’s Hawk

Have you ever heard a hawk scream and beg for food like a puppy? I have! That’s how I met Hannah Montana. No, not Miley Cyrus, I mean Hannah Montana who is a Harris’s Hawk. I never bothered to ask why her name was Hannah Montana, but here we are. All pictures in this article are of Hannah, who was an absolute delight to meet at the Eagle Valley Raptor Center.

Like all birds featured as “bird of the week” during Raptor Week, Hannah is a permanent resident at the EVRC and would not be able to survive in the wild. Fortunately, she has a happy home where she is well-fed and looked after.

Before meeting Hannah, I had actually never heard of the Harris’s Hawk before meeting Hannah. Harris’s Hawks are not found in Kansas and are only found in the southern-most parts of the southwestern United States. Their range is mostly Central America and certain parts of South America, generally preferring open, arid, and desert environments. I generally prefer to focus my bird content on the Great Plains, but since Hannah lives in Kansas, I figure I can make a small exception!

Hannah Montana wants more mice!

Harris’s Hawks are known chiefly for being the “social raptors” and the only raptors to hunt in packs, almost like wolves. This may be why Hannah was so much more vocal than the other birds at EVRC. She was absolutely not afraid to speak her mind, knowing full well that the humans approaching her enclosure come bearing the gift of mice.

Their wolf-like hunting behavior has been observed to involve up to six birds, with each hawk serving a different purpose. Like all hawks, Harris’s Hawks have excellent vision and, working together, finding prey isn’t difficult. They’ll generally choose one to be the scout and take turns flying off to spot dinner while the others wait. Once they’ve spotted prey, one will be tasked with keeping it out of hiding by chasing it, usually from down low or on the ground. Finally, some of the other hawks will descend on the prey, going in for the kill.

This form of tactical predation shows advanced social thinking and cooperation. The Harris’s Hawks seem to have worked out that everyone survives in the food-scarce desert environment by working as a team and it also shows intelligence that they each have a different role in the operation.

Another note to Harris’s Hawk hunting is that they’re also adept runners, with specially adapted long legs. This makes it more difficult for animals like rabbits or squirrels to hide underneath things and evade.

Hannah Montana poses for me

You can differentiate the Harris’s Hawk from other hawks by their plumage. They are mostly dark brown and darker in general than, say, the more lightly colored Red-tailed Hawk.

Harris’s Hawks are known to be intelligent and easily trained, making them popular choices for falconers, even rivaling the most famous Peregrine Falcon. According to Wikipedia, they are the most popular in the West. I’ve said before that being social is a good indicator of intelligence and the Harris’s Hawk does not seem like an exception to this rule. I also postulate than since the Harris’s Hawk is naturally inclined to cooperate and work with other Harris’s Hawks, they more easily slide into the role of working together with humans.

As I said before, you won’t see a Harris’s Hawk in the wild in Kansas, but you can meet Hannah Montana at the Eagle Valley Raptor Center. She was one of my favorite parts! I even got to have Hannah land on my hand and eat a mouse from my glove! How cool is that?

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at one of the most famous raptors of all: the Bald Eagle!

Let me know in the comments what you think of our favorite flying pack hunter!

Thanks for dropping by!

Hannah eats from my friend’s hand. She has her wings out like this to cover her food so no one tries to steal it!