Monday, August 9, 2010

The Rookie Files: Mesquite

Having only flown two Harris’ Hawks, both of whom are old pros, I didn’t know what to expect when we got a new juvenile. Mesquite, otherwise known as skeet or skeeter, was definitely not what I expected. Eager from the get-go and always learning, I can tell that one day he will be an excellent flyer, once he matures.
Meet Mesquite, the Harris' Hawk 
Mesquite is a juvenile male Harris’ Hawk. He is only a little over a year old and not only is this his first year flying in shows, but it is his very first year in shows period. Mesquite was put on equipment and manned (taught to sit on the glove) this winter. He is very precocious and a quick study. Within a matter of days he was eating in front of us, and only a few weeks later he stepped to the glove and was walked around the ETC.

Mesquite has always allowed us to push the envelope. He was hopping from one glove to another within a couple of months of being introduced to humans. This ready adaptation to humans is not completely uncommon in Harris’ Hawks, which is why many falconers use them and why they are a favorite bird for educational programs.
 Mesquite displaying the juvenile plumage typical of an immature Harris' Hawk
Harris’ Hawks are one of the only social birds of prey. They will actually hunt in family groups of four to seven birds. Hence their nickname “wolves of the sky”. One hawk will chase their prey, for instance a jackrabbit. If the jackrabbit dives for cover in a burrow, that Harris’ Hawk will actually crawl in after it to flush it out. Once it is flushed the jackrabbit is in for quite the surprise, since waiting on the other side is the rest of the family of hawks, and together they would kill their prey and join in the feast. In this social situation however, the young actually get first dibs on the kill. This helps to ensure their survival and the survival of the pack.
 Rifle, an adult Harris' Hawk - note the difference in overall plumage and tail feathers between Rifle and Mesquite
Now, unless you live in the US Southwest, it is unlikely that you have seen this particular species of hawk in the wild. If you are familiar with the Southwest, right about now you’re picturing how very sparse it is in terms of plant life and therefore perching options. Have no fear; the Harris’ Hawks have a great adaptation for this as well. One hawk will land on top of a cactus where the spines are still nice and soft. Then another hawk will come along, carefully ball up its feet and land right on top of that first hawk. This is known as stacking, and up to four Harris’ Hawks have been seen hunting in this manner. Not only does this offer them somewhere to perch, but there are now four sets of eyes on the lookout for food and predators.

Mesquite does not stack with other Harris’ Hawks.  For now he enjoys soaring right over the audience’s head (twice!), and getting used to Malone in the weathering area. If you happen to stop by before shows start (9-10:30ish) then you can see both Mesquite and Malone on display.
 Notice the stripes on Mesquite's tail feathers
Right now you can tell them apart since Mesquite still has his juvenile plumage. His front looks like cookies and cream ice cream as opposed to Malone’s solid brown, and Mesquite’s tail feathers are striped. This coloring would help him to blend into the nest in the wild.

Better hurry though! He already has two white-tipped dark brown tail feathers. They grow up so fast…

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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