Hawks and Falcons
by Adel Salem
Legally and in accordance to protection laws that are designed to protect these magnificent predators, my son and I were able to capture a peregrine falcon live, while in a deadly pursuit after a pigeon from our flying and racing kit. My son and I were practicing taking pictures of rapidly flying objects to prepare a VHS tape about the flying ability and the performance of the Egyptian Swifts.
A Cooper hawk was adamantly attacking us as the pigeons prepared to land. I was not able to videotape him because of his unpredictable and rapid speed from a close range. I was also busy running around trying to relinquish the attacks, as they become so persistent. Because of the constant attacks of a Cooper hawk, we were forced to stagger the flying time of the birds from early morning to late morning hours.
Due to our location on an edge of a slopping mountain that opens on a valley with centrally located lake, we witness many migratory birds. Migratory flying predators assert their presence as early as September. The pigeons have become very wary to his presence and to avoid being ambushed they resorted to sudden bursts of speed instead of landing on their first try. Instead the pigeons do not land and, they go on speeding and weaving at more than 50 miles/hour and about 25 feet ahead of him. On top of that, he is exposed out of his hiding place. The birds repeat this maneuver 2 to 3 times before landing. Landing only if it appears safe and trap quickly. At times I resorted to whistling if the pursuers range has become threatening. The high pitch sound would scare the pigeon even more making them move faster or dive abruptly among the trees and loosing a chasing hawk. This threatening routine was slightly minimized when I staggered their flying time by few hours. Unfortunately that move has eventually become an invitation for a peregrine falcon attack. The birds enjoyed their new flying time, running and moving in tight formation, avoiding the menacing Cooper Hawk for a while.
Practicing using the Video:
Once again I went back to practice skills involved using the video camera to tape moving objects at a close range. It took my son and I many hours to feel comfortable about it. Patiently trying to learn how to keep the flying birds in focus against the light. Not only were they moving, they are also going up and down. Relying on the automatic focus mode could not totally help in getting the job done. The picture was getting steady and clear, near to a professional job, as we practiced. I was able to get footage when they returned once from 45 minutes of kiting with almost 30 racing homers. It was very enjoyable to see the number of the birds double or even quadruple at times. The two kits flew together for almost 30 minutes before the homers winged off heading south.
The increase of the Red Tail presence in the air does not bother them much; they simply tighten up and soar above the hawk. Forcing him to leave or if bothered he aimlessly strikes at them. They took advantage of the warm thermal air currents as they returned from their run each time. The length of their gliding kept on increasing as the birds approached their landing time. After 3-4 hours of flying, they were noticed to spend around 10 minutes or more, gliding and circling in the same area. The result of this slow motion gliding resulted in the undesirable invitation of one the most feared Pigeon predators or the Peregrine Falcon. He streaked by the kit couple of times without any actual attacks. At first sight, I let my second kit out to lower the birds as fast I could before he develops a frenzy and goes for a kill.
The following weeks were uneasy because of his increased sightings and threatening behavior. As much as I wanted to, I failed repeatedly to videotape his very close darting through the birds for it only lasted no more than 2 or 3 seconds. While my son was on his Winter Break, we discussed a plan to possibly videotape an immanent attack. We totally focused on the pigeons and got the tapes rolling as soon as we saw the pigeons flying and gliding at 300 yards. The camera is equipped with a tape that could last for up to 2 hours of taping time.
On a bright sunny day marred by occasional high clouds that slightly obscured the azure bright blue color of the sky, the birds were flown as usual. After flying for nearly 4 hours, They started to linger in one spot. We knew then he would most likely to attack, if their display continues.
The camera was poised and focused. We were tensed and silent hoping not to loose any concentration, for his attack is so swift and ethereal. Missing one second would ruin the whole thing. How are we going to fare this time? That remains to be seen. From previous attacks, we have learned to read his approach by watching the birds. They become erratic and jittery and weave up and down frantically as he close's in on them.
The view from the camera to the birds was clear. No trees or other high objects to obstruct our vision to the infinite sky. Suddenly the Peregrine falcon emerges from beneath thin clouds that were hanging aimlessly above the kit. None of us have detected any unusual signal from the birds indicating his approach while the falcon was darting through the best flock of flying birds that I have. I was very angry and scared. They tried to stick together, but his forceful and remarkable speed split them into two groups (The World Book Encyclopedia indicates that the Peregrine is capable of diving speed close to 200 miles per hour). One major group of 20 birds banded together moving rapidly upward to the west. A smaller group of less than 10 birds took a spiral dive to the east in a loose and disarrayed formation. In the midst of the chase, the screams of my son along with the resonant whistling could be heard over 100 yards away. My son held very tightly to his camera, focusing keenly on what might have been become a dramatic and a rare footage. The falcon pressed on the scattered lower formation. Singling a young Bolk that strayed away from the formation.
As many young birds do, they panic, leaving and dropping from their main kit. Disparately trying to return and seek refuge in their loft. The falcons are programmed to answer this call. Instinctively they know that those birds are weak, young, or sick. The falcon pushed harder as he singled out his prey. So did the Bolk that streaked across of him dropping from 250 to 225 yards in what seemed like an eye blink in a very impressive evading manner. I was striking two pieces of wood against each other as hard as I could because my Whistle could not be heard at such a distance. The next 50 yards proved to be crucial for the bird. The falcon closed on the gap and turned partially to latch his razor claws in the Bolks chest. The Bolk instinctively switched his direction in an almost 180 degree in such an incredible agility surpassed only by the falcon. The screaming, striking, and praying kept on going as did the chase. The hungry and mad falcon showed his long wings with a splendid aerodynamic mobility by making a sharper turn perusing the bird. The Bolk, which had managed to gain almost a couple of feet on the falcon, was soon caught up with again. This time the falcon positioned itself exactly under him.
The two birds looked as a shooting star, no longer two birds. My son screamed loud, "Did he get him"?
Many of us have witnessed this scene once or several times before. The remarkable thing here is that it was all caught crisp and clear by an amateur and junior fancier with nonprofessional video camera. We played and watched this segment that lasted less than a total of ten seconds over and over again. I don't know who deserves the reward, the bird that put up a spectacular duel for its life or the cameraman.
The tape has been edited professionally and has been marketable since 1997. It includes the falcon segment as it happened, replayed in slow motion. The tape will also include the birds flying pattern, flying with other racing kits, The San Diego Race Event June 1995, landing and acceleration and finally a close look at several quality flying swifts. If interested to get a copy please, see the video link. After the falcon event, I locked the birds for a week and now I fly early contentedly putting up with the Cooper Hawk.
Cooping with Birds of Prey
Birds of prey are among many contributing factors to domestic flying pigeon losses. They are also the chief reason that many fanciers have relinquished flying certain breeds or resorted to others. The purpose of this article is to discuss ways to limit those losses. A brief discussion of the four chief Raptors that are directly involved in attacking Pigeons is included.
Both the Cooper (Chicken Hawk) and the Sharp Shined-Hawk seem to be the chief predators in North America. They resemble each other to a great deal; however the Cooper is slightly larger. They are found as far North as Canada and extend south to America and Costa Rica. They spend most of their time in their breeding ground in the northern states during the summer time and migrate south during winter, following their prey and seeking warmer climate. The middle states provide temporary hunting grounds while the birds are migrating. Some Raptors don't migrate because of milder climate and adequate prey supply. Their method of hunting is skimming over trees and houses and collapsing on their prey with thrusting speed and accuracy. A favorite attack posture comes while birds attempt to land. The Goshawk, which has great resemblance to a Cooper, but slightly larger is limited to the Northern America and Europe. It hunts similarly to those of the Coopers with astonishing timing as they thread through trees and tight corners. The Red Tail, which is the largest among the Hawks, feeds mostly on Rodents and small animals and relies on ambushing its prey. It is endogenous in America and because it's bulky size, it moves slower than the rest of the flying predators. Its damage is limited among young birds before they become capable of flying.
The Peregrine Falcon (Duck Hawk) has around seventeen species worldwide. It covers all continents except Antarctica, and has two species in North America. It has nearly the same body size as a Cooper; however much longer wings reaching nearly to his tail end. A quality suited for aerial maneuvering than stalking. San Diego is among several US cities that harbors a breeding program, intended to introduce and stabilize Peregrine population. This has created his presence year around in San Diego area. Few tend to stay locally, but ironically the majority move north to Oregon and Washington for better nesting grounds. It hunts by attacking birds directly without relying on the element of surprise and usually at higher altitudes. Its approach is marked by strong signal from a flying kit sending it higher in a tight formation. In the past seven years I lost one Swift to the Peregrine despite his daily attacks at times. A good flying Swift has a great maneuvering ability because of his long wings and tail. Its mechanism of escape relies on avoiding taking a steep dive all the way ahead of the attacking Peregrine, instead it climes up hill against it before continuing to slide downward. The repetition of this movement forms a zigzagging line. The speed of forming this motion is what makes the difference between life and death for many birds. How could we minimize Raptors threat? We all have slightly different methodology depending on our territory and experience. I will list them according to their efficacy for me. Nonetheless we must expect an exception to the predator behavior at all the times. They wouldn't have been a threatening factor if they were predictable. Cull heavy: Weak birds tend to lag behind, thus inviting predators. A strong group of youngsters at 11 to 12 weeks should be able to fly high enough for few minutes when disturbed. Those lagging behind will either be culled or snatched. Culling includes excessive long wings and birds with slow mobility. Avoid training during Cooper season: Train young birds when you know that the Hawk season is about over in your area. Once trained well, you should be able to continue flying them as the Hawk return with hardly any loses. Limit numbers of flying kit: A kit of less than or around twenty birds should fly smoothly. Less than that is even ideal. Small numbers can move around quickly and scout for longer time. Missing birds while scouting is not a common thing, indicating that a predator targets mostly localized flying kits. Most of the losses come when they circle slowly before landing.
Don't fly malting birds: Swifts are vulnerable during malt. Those long wings become a burden as some birds loose several primaries at once. Malt starts from August and well to the end of November. Don't fly immediately after heavy storm: There is usually little prey activity during the storm, thus forcing a predator to hunt aggressively as soon as it's over. They had attacked the kit nearly each time it flew in partially clear skies after few rainy days. After a storm, I suggest you skip a day or two. Don't fly late in the day: A sure way of loosing birds to a Cooper is flying them late in the day during the Cooper season. In Egypt it is the essence of competition to start flying half an hour before sunset to at least half an hour beyond. My last time I flew approaching a sunset, a Cooper attacked the birds as they were about to land after the sunset. It kept the birds flying into the dark and all what I could see is white spicks moving in different directions. With the aide of a floodlight, birds were finally trapped and fed. Over the course of late flying, I had taken few valuable pictures and placed them on the Swifts web site. Separate sexes: Once sexes are differentiated birds will tend to mate and fly in different direction without a pattern. Removing hens immediately will keep the flying spirit of a kit young for a long time. A good young kit travels as a unit and away from the loft for various periods. I have males that are still flying strong at age of seven. A strong flying kit tend to send a strong message for Hawks. Traps: Hawk traps are legal in many states but restrictions imposed in others. You should check with your local wild life department before using them. The idea is to trap and relocate a problem predator. Traps require live bait, preferably a white pigeon. I always wonder if a decoy pigeon could be used? Despite these restrictions, I have been able to fly on the average of four days of the week during the flying season and that's adequate to give decent performance. Summary: Several ways should be implemented to lessen the incidence of attacks by flying predators. The most undisputed deterrence is the ability of birds to fly well. Good management insures production of such birds.