Museum Photos, Part III — Feathered Wolves

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

Today’s post is about Harris’ Hawks.  I made these photos the other day during the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum’s afternoon Raptor Free Flight demonstration.

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Harris’ Hawks are actually a Latin American species with a range extending all the way down into South America.  The members of this species that one sees in southern Arizona are descendants from recent immigrants: the first Harris’ Hawks appearing in Arizona showed up 100 years ago or so.  It’s unclear what attracted them although construction of stock tanks for watering cattle may have had something to do with it.

The bird depicted above is a male Harris’ Hawk.  All members of the species have virtually identical plumage (juveniles have white patches on their breasts and underwings).  They are easily identifiable, not only from their uniquely colored plumage, but by their long legs and tails.

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This second individual is a female.  Notice how much more muscular she is than the male?  Harris’ Hawks, like most raptors, evidence reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning that the girls are bigger than the boys.  It is especially pronounced in the case of Harris’ Hawks, with females averaging about 40% larger than males.

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In Latin America these hawks are solitary hunters and they are generally found in open country.  But, something really cool happened when they migrated here.  The Arizona Harris’ Hawks modified their behavior and became pack hunters, making them the only species of bird of prey in North America that hunts cooperatively.

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In Arizona these hawks live in family groups of from three individuals to as many as ten or more.  Each family is dominated by an alpha female and the rest of the family consists of her mate plus other birds, often her offspring, plus occasional outsiders.  They hunt in a group, surrounding prey on the ground that may be as large as a rabbit, and killing it collectively.

Harris’ Hawks are fairly common in the Tucson area.  I’ve seen groups of as many as five hawks sitting on Saguaros and utility poles while driving around.  Last winter, I saw a Harris’ Hawk family occupying a utility pole adjacent to a multi-laned highway in a Tucson suburb.

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I’ve photographed these birds in the wild.  However, there’s nothing like the controlled circumstances of Raptor Free Flight for obtaining pictures that really show off these amazing hawks.

Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 70-200mm f4 L IS, ISO 250, “M” setting, f6.3 @ 1/1600.


3 responses to “Museum Photos, Part III — Feathered Wolves”

  1. samhan says :

    You really nailed it on these shots Steve. Perfect exposures in all dimensions.


    • stevenkessel says :

      Thanks, Sally. My feeling about zoo photos is that I’d better get them right! I’ve seen more than 100 Raptor Free Flight demonstrations as part of my volunteer duties at the Desert Museum and I know exactly where the birds are likely to land and where the best angles are to get the prettiest lighting. Therefore, I have no excuses when I photograph there.

  2. Liesl Kii says :

    How interesting to read of the lifestyle of the Arizona Harris’ Hawks! Their black and rust coloring is remarkable. The last photo is particularly artistic.

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