Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mesquite...Not Just Another Barbeque Sauce

Today I want to introduce you to a truly amazing bird!  His name is Mesquite and he is a Harris’ Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus).  

Mesquite was hatched at a breeding facility in California in 2010, and WBS purchased him at about 8 months of age for educational purposes.  He travels around the country to help educate people about his species and how all birds are in need of our help.

Harris’ Hawks are also known as the Bay-winged Hawk because of the chestnut-colored patches on their wings.  John James Audubon discovered this species and named it after a friend, Edward Harris.  This species can be found in the southwestern areas of the United States, and through most of Mexico and South America.  In the United States they can be found in arid habitat.  They can also be found in lowland shrub and tropical deciduous forest areas.

From the tip of the tail to the tip of the beak, a Harris’ Hawk’s length is typically 18-23 inches with a 4 foot wingspan, and they weigh only two to three pounds.  Harris’ Hawks can live from 10-15 years in the wild and may range from 25-30 years in captivity.  Their diet consists of mostly mammals, but will occasionally include small birds and reptiles.  These amazing birds lay two to four eggs per clutch (a group of eggs).  Females will lay a second clutch, depending on whether their first clutch is successful or not.  These birds have been known to have chicks or eggs in a nest in every month of the year.

Harris’ Hawks are extremely intelligent.  They are social birds that not only raise young together, they also hunt together, especially when hunting large prey. They use three different methods of hunting; relay chase, surprise pounce, flush and ambush. The relay chase method occurs when the birds take turns chasing after prey so that no one bird will tire out.  The surprise pounce method suggests that multiple birds will fly at the prey at different angles to capture and kill their food.  The last tactic Harris’ Hawks use is the flush and ambush method.  One hawk will flush prey from cover, say a bush, and sometimes as many as 5 other hawks catch it.  Harris’ Hawks are the only raptor in the world that will hunt in a pack!

Through trial and error Harris’ Hawks learn which perches are the best ones to hunt from.  Harris’ Hawks have devised a very clever strategy—a behavior called stacking.  One hawk will land on a cactus, for example, and another one will fly up, ball up its feet and stand on the shoulders of that first bird.  Then a second hawk will fly up and do the same thing.  Harris’ Hawks have been observed stacked 4 high on a single perch! 

Even though they are listed as a species of “Least Concern”, their numbers are declining due to habitat loss.  Their habitat is decreasing from habitat destruction due to expanding human development.

In the summer of 2011 Mesquite worked with me at Grant’s Farm in the bird show.  He is an amazing flyer! He loves to sit up high on his jump box (an outside perch with three walls and a roof) each day.  I love his “personality,” too!  He is always on the lookout for any wild intruders and loves to bathe in the brilliant sunlight. This summer he can be seen at the Nature Center at the World Bird Sanctuary.  Be sure to look for Mesquite when you visit. 

Mesquite is available for adoption through our Adopt A Bird program. To find out more information Click Here or call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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