Red-Tailed Hawk, Rousing

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The other day I took a few photographs of an immature Red-tailed Hawk.  You can tell that this is a young bird, almost certainly a yearling, by its pale eyes, its heavily marked breast, and its lack of a red tail.  Give it another year or so and its appearance will be very different as the hawk molts its juvenile plumage.

As I watched the young hawk it roused.  “Rousing” is a term that describes what raptors occasionally do when perched.  They puff out their feathers, they shake, sometimes very vigorously, and then allow everything to fall back into place.  Here’s a photo of the hawk in the midst of rousing.

Why do raptors rouse?  That’s a really good question without a definitive answer.  Some suggest that they do it to rearrange their feathers in order to maximize their efficiency for flying.  Others speculate that they’re trying to shake off parasites and dust.  Or, perhaps, rousing may be a response to a surge of adrenaline just before taking flight.  As I think about it, raptors’ rousing behavior is reminiscent of what ducks often do after grooming, during courtship, and after squabbles with other ducks: they rise out of the water and vigorously flap their wings.  Rousing may be raptors’ version of that behavior.

I did notice one thing interesting about this bird: the feathers on its breast are soaking wet.  They were irrigating a nearby agricultural field when I saw the hawk and it’s likely that the hawk had been down in a wet area, probably in pursuit of prey.  So, maybe, the young  Red Tail was rousing to help its feathers dry.

Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 500, f8 @ 1/1250.


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