Raven Games and Eagle Skies

Raven passing by North Lookout by Bill Moses.

Raven passing by North Lookout by Bill Moses.

By Dr. Laurie Goodrich, Director of Long-term Monitoring
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

November 4, 2016

The first morning light illuminated the eastern sky as I arrived to the Lookout soon after 7 am. I had hiked up using a flashlight, thinking the northwest winds might bring some early migrants. A cold front has passed the night before and the wind was gusting more than 15 mph as I began to unpack my pack basket of gear. 

Raven in flight by Bill Moses. 

Raven in flight by Bill Moses. 

Suddenly, I heard a strange guttural clucking sound behind me. Looking toward the north side, I saw four common ravens gliding past just a treetop level, surrounding an adult red-tailed hawk. They were calling and nipping at his feathers as he twisted and turned to escape their unwanted attention/ They reminded me of a city street gang harassing an unwelcome passerby. The raven's call was a new one for me as I am more used to their deep croaking. 

After the hawk escaped behind the Lookout, two of the ravens turned and flew upridge to northeast to "hang out" near Number Three. The other raven pair dove repeatedly at the owl decoy near me, doing midair flaps at times and seeming to compete for who could fly the closest. Soon they tired of that game; they too headed upridge to join the other ravens at their post, calling and dipping in the air, perhaps celebrating their hawk-chasing skill!

Golden eagle in flight. 

Golden eagle in flight. 

After a few redtails ran the raven gauntlet, an adult golden eagle appeared low on north slope just before 8 am, the first eagle of the day! The gang of four ravens circled up in pursuit of their next victim croaking softly. But just as they closed in, the eagle flinched towards them and circled high above his tormentors. The wise ravens faded back to a respectful distance to follow the eagle past the Lookout. They then returned quietly upridge again, thinking of a better game. 

During the next few hours, the northerly winds ushered a steady parade of bald and golden eagles and red-tailed hawks past the Lookout, but most of them rose higher than the ravens and soon the "gang" seemed to tire of their chasing games and let them glide past unmolested. 

An adult bald eagle joined an immature golden eagle at 8:25 am above the north slope, and by late morning four bald and seven golden eagles has been added to the day's tally. In the afternoon, eagle and raven activity lessened with only one more migrant golden eagle counted among the stream of red-tailed and red-shouldered hawk migrants.