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Recently, reader Barbara Simpson wrote in about a crying hawk, who was circling her neighborhood and was soon joined by other hawks. This was something new to me, so I asked readers to chime in with thoughts about the phenomenon. I received some interesting replies.
DEAR JOAN: I worked with raptors for some years and never heard of that, but in Bernd Heinrich’s wonderful book, “Ravens in Winter,” he noticed similar behavior in ravens.
A raven would fly over and find something to eat, and call other ravens to come. This was winter in Maine, when food is worse than scarce. Even though Heinrich was an entomologist and knew nothing about the behavior of warm-blooded animals, it still seemed counterproductive to the basic need of animals to get food.
But he knew scientific method and it took him two winters to figure it out. He concluded that the raven calling out was flying in another raven’s territory, so when there was identifiable food, it called out for additional birds to share and protect it from an attack by the resident.
Hawks are just as territorial, and there are many observers who have reported hawks and eagles fighting interlopers. The local bird almost always wins, because the non-territorial bird is at a disadvantage knowing it’s in another’s territory.
With the fires of summer depleting and destroying huge areas, that might explain why so many hawks are here now, more than a month before what would normally be migratory time. Perhaps in defending against a local bird’s territory, they’re using the same tactic.
Howard Pearlstein, Bay Area
DEAR JOAN: Possibly the hawks are reacting to crows in the area. The number of crows I have seen in my neighborhood has increased greatly in the last few years. I regularly watch Cooper hawks in my neighborhood being harassed by a murder of crows. Usually the hawks will screech during the battle.
Matt, Bay Area
DEAR JOAN: We live in the same neighborhood as Barbara Simpson. One, two and three hawks will circle for several minutes at low attitude dropping down occasionally to below tree top level.
When three birds are present, two of them seem to circle a common point, while the third moves toward and then away from the first two. In the past 10 days or so, I would say that most of the time there is a single hawk visible or audible, sometimes two birds and much less often three. When a third bird appears it only stays for a short while.
A few times one of the birds will fly with legs and talons extended, similar to a mating display, but without a dead animal.
I’ve not seen or heard anything unusual in the immediate area where the hawks are calling and circling.
DEAR READERS: Thanks so much for the excellent theories. I’ve heard back from Barbara and David since their initial emails. There don’t seem to be many crows in the area, they report. The hawk gathering now is mostly just one hawk, and it’s still calling out. I’m starting to think it could be a juvenile that just won’t grow up.
Readers offer theories and observations on circling, calling hawks