Category Archives: Birds

Harris Hawks: Hawks of the South



In the US Harris Hawks can be found from Arizona to Texas, but not farther north. They can be found as far south as South America.

It has a long tail and a relatively small head.  Harris’s hawks can live up to 15 or 20 years old. The Harris’s hawk is usually between 18-24 inches in body length and has a wingspan of 3-4 feet yet only weighs from 1&1/2 pounds to 2 & ½ pounds.

Some of the Harris Hawks nest in spring but some females lay a second or even a third clutch whether or not their first breeding attempt fails. As a result, in Arizona eggs have been recorded in each month of the year.  This is possible because they nest in the southwest USA and farther south. This would not be so easy in Manitoba.

Young Harris Hawks sometimes play with each other by chasing insects or jumping on stick in imitation of the prey they capture.

Like most hawks, the female Harris hawks are larger than their male counterparts.  males. Sometimes these hawks practice a behavior known as “back-standing” where several birds stand on top of each other.


Harris Hawk: The Cooperators


Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

At the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum the last raptors we saw in flight were Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)  which I have seen a number of times before.  I was very lucky to have captured an image of this wonderful bird in flight,


This bird is unusual because it is one of the few birds of prey that hunts in packs. As a result, Harris Hawks  are more successful at capturing prey than individuals that hunt alone, but, of course, that means they have to share.

Harris’s are one of only two truly cooperative hunters in the raptor world. They will live in pairs in the tropical areas, or places where prey is abundant. In areas such as the Sonoran desert where prey has a lot of good cover because this desert contains a lot of vegetation,  they have been documented in groups as large as 9 birds.

That is why they are sometimes called ‘wolves of the air‘ taking their turns harrying a rabbit or squirrel and then chasing it out of cover towards other members that catch it. Here at the Museum they did not have to harry prey because the food was laid out for them. Briefly, the commentator giving us information through a loudspeaker tried to trick us into thinking they had found some prey were trying to pursue it into a corner. She soon acknowledged that this was not the case.

Sometimes Harris Hawks have been electrocuted by hydro lines, but sometimes other members of the group will return to help the injured hawk.  Thus, they carry their cooperating to extremes.  This cooperative view of species is sometimes controversial, as some evolutionists believe there is no cooperation in nature, just competition, but I think the better view is that cooperation is real, and Harris Hawks are an example of that.

They also nest in social groups that allows them to bond before they venture out together on hunting raids.


Crested Caracara



I have been to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum many times, but this year we saw a new species the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). This  bird is a fairly recent immigrant to Arizona that flew in over Trump’s vaunted wall. Actually, it arrived before the wall, but the wall would not have bothered it.

This bird is very rare in the United States, but it has been expanding its range into the southern United. So far it has only reached a few of the most southerly states.

It was a treat to see this magnificent bird up close.

It is a falcon but looks a little like a vulture. It acts a bit like a vulture too usually dining on carcases or otherwise immobile prey that it locates by soaring or cruising over pastureland or grassland. Sometimes it can be found in a group of vultures participating in a feast.

It is easy to recognize this bird as it stands tall on yellow-orange legs with a sharp black cap set off against a white neck and yellow-orange face


The Crested Caracara is a bird of open country and reaches only a few states in the southern U.S. It flies low on flat wings, and routinely walks on the ground.




A silent hunter



The Great Horned owls fly extremely quietly to avoid giving themselves away to their prey. I learned this personally and directly when I was at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum one came up from behind me and flew right over my head and I never heard it. It was so close I could have touched it. I did hear excited people gasping near to me and I did not why until it had flown by . It was so close I could have touched it. I pretended to be brave. It gave me a personal feeling of what it must be like to be a prey of such a magnificent raptor. It was thrilling.

These owls have very good low-light eyesight, and hearing that allows them to spot prey in difficult circumstances. I don’t think they saw an old fat guy like me as prey.

These owls don’t actually have horns. They have tufts near the ears that gives them their names. They also have deep yellow eyes

They will eat a great variety of prey including large insects, reptiles, amphibians, other birds, and small mammals such as skunks and jackrabbits. I don’t know about you but I have no intent to add skunk to my diet.

The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats.

Owls do not build their own nests; because they lay eggs earlier in the year than most other species, they use old raven and hawk nests to raise their young. As a result, in Manitoba I have managed to see them early in the year where their young must battle the cold.

 These owls sometimes fall prey to Golden eagles or Northern goshawks.

Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight. It was a great experience for which I was very grateful .


Great Horned Owl




At the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum I saw a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) can close its feet with 500 psi (pounds per square inch). I have seen these before in Manitoba but never this close. This was a treat.

The average human exerts- squeezing as hard as 80-150 psi. However, the story that owls will eat your dogs/cats is an mainly an urban legend because an owl cannot lift more than its own body weight of (2-3 lbs).

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While we don’t like to say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats. Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While no one should  say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


Sonoran Desert Museum Tucson


This is a Great Horned Owl which I saw in Tucson Arizona this winter.

In Arizona this past winter, we went to one of my favorite places in Arizona, the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson Arizona. The word “museum” however is very misleading. You have to put all of your preconceptions about what a museum is on the shelf. This place is very different.  As they say here, “this is a place to turn your idea of museum inside out.”

It is almost entirely outdoors and consists of a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher, and art gallery that was founded in 1952 and is located west of Tucson adjacent to the Saguaro National Park and closely integrated with it. It  features 2 miles of walking paths through a 21 acres of desert landscape. It is a place of wonder. If you want to learn about the Sonoran Desert this is a great place to start as it contains much of the flora and fauna of that special North American desert.

My favorite part of this museum is the Live Raptor display that is held each winter. Here you get to see a variety of desert flying raptors flying in the wide open spaces. The birds are actually free to fly away and sometimes do exactly that. They don’t usually fly away because they know if they show a bit of patience people will place food for them in the surrounding shrubs, cacti and other plants. Why would you leave this place if food in convenient bite-sized chunks will soon be available? This food is place on shrubs close to where the people stand with cameras at the ready.

I have tried a number of times to get photos of raptors in flight and failed each time until this year. This year I was thrilled with my results. I have will show more of my photos in future posts.

The Museum  contains only birds that can be found in the Sonoran Desert.  The birds are completely untethered and without any jesses (leg straps) and mainly even without bracelets. A narrator tells the story of each specie on display that day including their habits, diets, hunting strategies, behaviors, and fun facts that I usually end up forgetting because I get to wrapped up in the raptor display. But that’s me.

The thing that is most surprising about this place is how close the raptors come to us. It turned out today that as far as the raptors were concerned, I was the centre of attention. A number of times they swooped right over my head. I could have touched them were I not such a smart guy (big chicken) who knew better than to touch them in flight. A few times I missed a great shot of a bird because I was too close to photograph it with my zoom lens.

This was a sensational day!

The Eagles have Landed



Thanks to a post from a birder on a web group called Manitoba Birds, and a friend of mine who made sure I saw the post, Christiane and I saw more eagles than we have ever seen before.  We had been told there were numerous eagles near New Bothwell.  I decided to try a favourite spot of mine instead. Not near New Bothwell but near Kleefeld.  There we found a small forest with about 7 bald eagles. It was near the end of the light for the day so we had no time to waste.  Thanks to my theory and Chris’ keen sight, we found a patch of bush filled with bald eagles. We enjoyed the sight for about 15 minutes.

We soon noticed that more and more eagles were arriving all the time.  Sometimes one eagle would land scaring another one off a comfortable perch, but the entire congregation of birds  was conducted with remarkable decorum. No one appeared to claim the system was fraudulent.

By the time we left we counted more than 20 bald eagles and strongly suspected there were many more in that small clump of trees. This appeared to be an agreed upon rendezvous. My images are not great or even good, as even with my massive 200-500 mm Nikon lens coupled with a 1.5 multiplier was insufficient, but we enjoyed the event immensely.

The photo not even mediocre but the experience was everything.

Sometimes—no often—nature provides abundant joy. We were blessed.

2 delightful families


Recently we visited 2 wonderful families. First, was  our friends Mitch and Jan Toews at their little piece of paradise at Jessica Lake. They are always delightful hosts.

While there we were graced a second time by a family of hummingbirds. They were pretty high in a tree, but I was determined to try to get a photograph of them with my big lens. Just before we left my patience paid off as the mother hummingbird finally fed her young from the “right side.” Until then I had to be content to photograph her and her young from the back.

I knew the bird was the mother, because the fathers play no role in rearing young beyond their exuberant spurt of excitement at conception.

The nests of hummingbirds are often glued together by spider webs and then the mother, who again does all the nesting, uses pieces of lichen and small bits of bark as  very clever camouflage. They are smart birds.

These young birds we saw that day  will fledge at about 19-30 days after breaking through their eggs. Though nectar is their primary food, they also dine on tiny insects.

I could not help but think of their upcoming migration. They would be bound for South America soon. A hummingbird weighs between .1 and .3 of an ounce and yet are able to fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. How is that possible? Their migrations are so astonishing that many continue to think that they hitch rides on the bodies of geese. Yet they do it; somehow they do it.

For many reasons, humans are enamoured of hummingbirds. Who could blame us? As Charles Bowden who used to write for Arizona Highways explained,

“We are all seduced by hummingbirds, by the flash of color, the sudden iridescence, the rapid movement, the hovering, and the fact that something so small will fly right up to our face. In a world where so much of the wild flees at our approach, hummingbirds seem to promise redemption, whatever the real reason for their behavior.”

According to Susan Wethington, “Hummingbirds are one of the few animals people connect with immediately, and every culture with hummingbirds has a positive connection. I think hummingbirds provide an opportunity to engage people in nature and to open our eyes to the always astonishing natural world.

Bowden was right when he said, “If you want to see the only future worth being part of, you join the world of hummingbirds.” It really does make sense to “protect the joy.”

I don’t want to be a part of a world without hummingbirds.


Black-capped Chickadee: the true friend of everyone who lives in Manitoba



The Black-capped chickadee is a very common, but nonetheless very handsome bird of the Northern woods. John Weier in his book Marshwalker: Naturalist Memoirs says “Apparently, chickadees that live in cold climates replace and enlarge their brains every fall, they need to remember all the places they stash food. When spring and warm weather come, their brain cells begin to die again.” I love these birds because they stick around with us during the long cold winter months. They might not be smart, but they sure are relentless.

I read the excellent book, For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide, written by Laura Erickson . She was the guest speaker and birding guide at the Baudette Wildlife festival that Eugene Reimer and I attended a number of years ago. She is a very interesting speaker and birding guide, and says,

“About chickadees she points out that “chickadees wear even less clothing than a New Year’s baby, but scales and special circulatory adaptations protect their feet from frostbite, and their birthday suit of thick down insulates them against bitterest cold. They eat frozen dinners of seeds, suet, and insect pupae and larvae and sip from dipping icicles, yet maintain their body temperatures at 104 degrees, with heat enough to spare to warm our hearts.”

Laura Erickson recommended that the state of Minnesota designate an emergency back up state bird, and she intends to petition the Black capped chickadee for that role. Unlike the loon, it never leaves the state of Minnesota, or the province of Manitoba for that matter. Do we need an emergency back-up bird? Sounds like a good idea.



Erickson  also talks about birds in flocks, as follows:


“In Fall, Black-capped chickadees form flocks. The year’s young separate from their siblings and join different groups: this prevents them from choosing a closely related mate when the time comes. Flocks are more efficient at finding food and spotting predators than individual birds would be. Nuthatches and Downy woodpeckers associate with these flocks in winter.”


She also mentioned how the chickadees maintain their body temperature in part by turning down their thermostats to conserve fuel during long cold, hungry nights. She says the chickadee can drop its temperature over 12 degree at nighttime.


Henry David Thoreau, one of North America’s finest naturalists,  described the sound of chickadees as “the lisping tinkle of the chickadees.” That is a pretty good description.


Blue Jay

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata


Over 2 days at our cottage at Buffalo Point this past weekend, we were treated to an astonishing show.  The blue jays  that feed at our feeder were repeatedly harassed  by a hawk for more than a day.  the hawk would dive bomb the jays who had to flee for their lives with incredible speed an agility. This kept up for 2 days in a row.  It was astonishing to see how close to the jays the hawk would get before the jay turned away narrowly missing his  doom. It was a remarkable battle. As far as we could tell, the jays always managed to escape.


To me the jays until attacked appeared very arrogant. They reminded me of belligerent dukes willing to knock down anyone or anything in their paths, yet obsequious to any apparent higher authority.


At our cottage we saw many blue jays. These are really startlingly handsome birds. Downright dapper with their sharp crests and bright blue feathers. They light up an autumn afternoon.   Laura Erickson, in her book, For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide, that,

“the world is a finer place because of jays. They plant more acorns than they eat, reforesting for future generations. They do steal eggs and baby birds, but in turn perform an invaluable service by alerting other birds of even more dangerous predators. Jays valiantly protect their mates and young, and many mate for life. A group of jays was once recorded feeding and guarding an old, partially blind jay, and even protectively leading it to water.”


Their most characteristic sound is an “unrelenting steel-cold scream,” as Henry David Thoreau aptly called it. The National Wildlife Service, have said that their call resembles the words “thief,” “jay,” and “peer.” However, like many birds they have a large number of calls, including a sound something like whistling “kloo-loo-loo,” that is almost like a song. In courtship it is even heard to produce a sweet warbling sound, not what we would ordinarily expect from this spunky bird. But, in love, who knows what weird sounds males will make?

Mark Twain’s favorite bird was the blue jay, and this is what he had to say about them,

“There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. He has got more moods and more different kinds of feelings than other creatures; and, mind you, what ever a blue-jay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book talk—and bristling with metaphor, too—just bristling! And as for command of language—why, you never see a blue-jay stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him!

You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure—because he’s got feathers on him and don’t belong to no church, perhaps, but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I’ll tell you for why. A jay’s gift’s, and instincts, and feelings, and interests cover the whole ground. A jay hasn’t got any more principle than a Congressman… A jay can cry, a jay can laugh, a jay can feel shame, a jay can reason and plan and discuss, a jay likes gossip and scandal, a jay has got a sense of humor, a jay knows when he is an ass just as well as you do—maybe better. If a jay ain’t human, he better take in his sign, that’s all.”