Friday, August 15, 2014

Early morning screamfest

 Early this morning, after the stars had faded but when I could still see Venus in the east, I heard a red-tailed hawk scream. Redtails are the most common hawk around Roundtop, but they aren’t usually active this early. Or if they are, they are usually being harassed by a mob of crows. This morning, no crows were in evidence.

The redtail was to the north of me, at least 100 yards away, hidden behind the first rows of forest just past a small parking area for the ski resort. And then a second redtail screamed just over my left shoulder, and I saw an adult bird glide through the still-darkened forest to land in a dead snag. That appearance of the second bird explained the screaming, if not the early morning hour. One screaming redtail usually means a second is nearby. Redtails scream to communicate with each other, so when you hear a scream look for its source but also look for a second bird.

It was dark enough this morning that I heard the call of a great horned owl far up the mountain in between redtail screams. That owl might well have been a factor if closer, but at this distance the two redtails were screaming at each other and were not being worried by (or worrying) the owl.

Typically, screaming is used to defend territory. During nesting season this is particularly prevalent but that time is past for this year, which is usually begins here in late March. The nestlings are usually out of the nest by the end of June at the latest. In other words, nesting or hungry fledglings likely had nothing to do with this early morning screamfest.

Queen Anne's Lace
The likely cause for the screaming boils down to two options—one of the two might well have been a strange bird that caused the local bird to announce its ownership of the invaded territory. The second option might be a nearby predator with the first hawk calling on the other local forces to come help. Or, perhaps the two were a pair and simply hunting for an early breakfast together. Redtails will scream at human intruders, too, but this one was screaming before I was anywhere nearby. The second redtail that zoomed by me was unperturbed by my presence, so it’s unlikely the first redtail that was further away was paying any attention to me.

It is certainly possible another great horned owl was over by where the first redtail. The two species are notorious rivals but only come in brief contact at twilight or dawn. I didn’t hear a second owl or solve the mystery of the early morning screaming, but I’m glad I got to experience it.


Sharkbytes said...

I love my local redtails. I know they nest near me because I see the juveniles almost every spring.

Sharkbytes said...

er... year. Not really spring.

Pablo said...

I heard the "gronk" of a heron as I was running along a stream yesterday. I never think of them as vocal birds, but they certainly can raise a ruckus if they want.